Have you ever gone to Tomorrowland, the Disney theme park that dazzles you with tantalizing glimpses of what future technology will bring? Well, that's sort of what Verizon Wireless was shooting for at its LTE Innovation Center debut exhibition this week.
During both the opening ceremonies and exhibit tours, Innovation Center representatives showed off several new products that utilize Verizon's LTE wireless network to make life just a wee bit more convenient (early tests of commercial services have shown LTE download speeds in the 7M to 12Mbps range, although these speeds are likely to decline once more users subscribe to the services) . The LTE Innovation Center, located in Waltham, Mass., is meant to be a collaboration hub where young start-ups can get advice and technical know-how from the pros at Verizon and its equipment partners. In other words, if you're a young company that knows nothing about LTE but would like to incorporate it into your product to give it more mobility, you now have a place to go.
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During a panel discussion, representatives from three tech companies talked about how LTE had added an element of mobility to their products that exceeded anything they could have had with Wi-Fi. Bob Klingle, the CEO of LiveEdge, said that LTE was the key to letting his company create television news cameras that could broadcast from anywhere on the spot without having to wait around for a satellite truck. He also said that his company would never have survived if he didn't get hands-on help from Verizon, Alcatel-Lucent and Ericsson.
"I was looking at mothballing the company because we just weren't there and the technology wasn't there," he explained. "But we have the good fortune to run into Verizon and Ericsson and the Innovation Center... we now have a product that NBC and CBS and Fox desperately want to change their cost structure and to democratize live news gathering."
Tim Root, the CTO of VGo Communications, explained how LTE made it possible for the company to mount a teleconferencing service on top of one of its mobile robots that gives people the ability to simulate moving around a room during a video conference. As an example, he cited a boy who had an immune disorder that prevented him from attending school in person. The school decided to give him some help by installing a VGo telepresence robot in the classroom and letting him attend classes through the robotic interface from his home. Root explained that this added mobility was something that only could have been accomplished with a high-bandwidth wireless network with sufficient range to ensure constant connectivity.
"Not only does it let you communicate with your device to a VGo device... but it also gives you a dimension of mobility," he said. "We have a bunch of customers who put a VGo where their [work-related] team is and they have remote workers in international and other locations and they connect up every day for multiple hours and they're truly there. They can drive the unit, as it's controlled remotely, so they're fully empowered to go wherever they need to go."
One of the most striking uses of LTE at yesterday's demonstration came in the realm of transportation, as the team at the Innovation Center has put together prototype cars and bicycles that incorporate the 4G wireless technology into their standard functionality. How does this work in practice? In the case of the bicycle, the team is experimenting with having a Web camera strapped to the front of the bike while having another Web camera and monitor attached to the handle bars facing the rider. So if a parent needs to see exactly where their child is riding their bicycle or if they need to summon them home for dinner, they can now do so by using a home interface that connects with both cameras.
The Innovation Center team got even more ambitious in its attempts to integrate LTE into a car, as the interface they designed lets users chat with family and coworkers and monitor live camera footage from their homes and offices while sitting in the driver's seat. (Verizon reps take pains to emphasize that you should only use these features while either parked or stopped at a red light.) Having cameras directly outside your car has advantages too, as Verizon demonstrated the LTE car's ability to catch the license plate number of a car that did a bump-and-run on the LTE car while it was parked.
While not all of the products on display at the Innovation Center will be sure-fire hits with consumers - and let's face it, some of them may never make it out of the lab - they definitely show that LTE networks will be able to do a lot more besides simply powering consumer handsets and laptop dongles. And while we don't know for sure whether the future will look anything like Disney's Tomorrowland, we can at least feel comfortable that it will have lots of high-bandwidth wireless networks.
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