Apple looking at ways to simplify device connectivity, including generating a mesh network...

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Wearable devices like the Apple Watch and Internet of Things hardware could have an easier time connecting to iPhones and other devices in the future, with Apple coming up with multiple ways to deal with inter-device connectivity, including the ability to make a wide-area network where Internet access isn't available.

Communications between an Apple Watch and iPhone could be improved if Apple adopts its communications ideas in future products
Communications between an Apple Watch and iPhone could be improved if Apple adopts its communications ideas in future products


The increase in the number of devices in the world is producing new challenges relating to connectivity. Users are carrying more connected devices about their person than ever before, and with there being more network-connected hardware in homes and businesses, including smart home devices and those classified as part of the Internet of Things, the sheer quantity of potential connections could make things hard for devices to discover each other, or even to connect at all.

As part of a solution to this, Apple has filed three patent applications with the US Patent and Trademark Office suggesting slightly different ways to establish and operate a connection between pieces of hardware.

The first patent application, "Control and Shared Channels in Device-to-Device Communication," handles how narrowband connections between devices can be handled. In short, it suggests a device can go through device-to-device (D2D) discovery once it has synchronized as part of a group, then establish initial resources for control with a second device it needs to communicate with.

The first device transmits control information to the second, as well as indicating a buffer status, and awaits a signal from the second control to acknowledge the indication and to start a transmission. To make the connection more robust, it is advised the first attempt at establishing communications uses a "multi-tone transmission configuration," before switching down to a "single-tone" version if that fails.

The first patent application's illustration of an
The first patent application's illustration of an "exemplary cellular network supported device-to-device communication architecture"


The control information could include various bits of data, including a frequency hopping pattern, transmit power, and the transport format. Periodically, the resources can also expire in terms of availability between the two devices, with the system re-initiating D2D discovery in those cases.

The second patent application, "Synchronization Sequence Design for Device-to-Device Communication" handles the same narrowband communications subject, but instead deals with synchronization sequences.

On establishing a connection with another device, the first sends a preamble of an initial synchronization sequence, which includes a number of repetitions of "orthogonal frequency division multiplexing" (OFDM) symbols. Namely this is a system where data is split into multiple sub-signals and sent simultaneously, speeding up overall transmission times.

It is suggested the synchronized sequences can be transmitted with a gap between each individual sequence, sent cascaded, or via a number of different sequence methods, such as a "Zadoff-Chu" sequence.

An example of
An example of "possible timings" of a preamble-based narrowband device-to-device communications framework


The third, "Off Grid Radio Service System Design" is actually quite similar to the second, dealing with the use of synchronization signal repetitions for a transmission. This synchronization signal can be generated a few ways, with root index values based on the number of repetitions or a value for a Zadoff-Chu sequence.

A secondary synchronization signal is then able to be generated, with the value again able to stem from a Zadoff-Chu sequence, or even the device identifier for the transmitter, with the synchronization signal able to include details of a physical broadcast channel with frame number and subframe number.

Again, characteristics of a transmission based on repetitious synchronization signals can be used by the receiving device for establishing the connection, including the signal strength and quality, and the number of repetitions.

The D2D synchronization preamble could also be set to be transmitted at a time and frequency maintained by a local clock on a device, which would most likely be synchronized with the clocks of other devices or under universal time (UTC.) Knowledge of the timing would help with being able to monitor for transmissions especially when attempting to re-establish an expired or failed connection.

While the time clock drift between devices communicated with each other, it is suggested that the devices could be synchronized by using the time received by a GPS system, which one device can potentially receive, correct itself, then synchronize with others in the area.

Though the patent applications largely deal with wireless communications that do not necessarily involve human interaction, like an Apple Watch maintaining a connection to an iPhone for example, it may also work in other ways.

One extreme example could be a natural disaster that knocks out or overloads cellular networks in an area. By being able to establish connections between mobile phones without relying on the cellular network, this could allow there to be a mesh-style network running between all of the devices, allowing some level of communications through.

Apple files numerous patent applications with the USPTO on a weekly basis, but it isn't a guarantee the technology brought up in the filings will make its way into future products or services. The filings do however reveal areas of interest for the company.

Comments

  • Reply 1 of 17
    chasmchasm Posts: 1,396member
    Seems like a very forward-thinking idea, I hope it forms the foundation of a future standard for such devices. We take our various connections for granted, but the one time we really need them is during emergencies and disasters, so anything that can help improve communication under sub-optimal conditions should be welcomed by the industry as a whole.
    n2itivguygregoriusmrobbyxleavingthebiggBigDannapplesnorangeswatto_cobra
  • Reply 2 of 17
    SoliSoli Posts: 8,748member
    I love this idea. I'd also like to see it allowed for areas where regular communications are usually killed but where you're likely still within a moderate range of other people, like National Parks, that even basic voice or text communication could relay out to a normal cell tower where a call could potentially be bad, thereby no longer needing to carry a sat radio with me for emergencies when I'm off the grid.
    edited March 21 gregoriusmBigDannwatto_cobra
  • Reply 3 of 17
    gutengelgutengel Posts: 253member
    I hope this becomes a reality soon. The only options available now are Zello, that is decent, and FireChat which is not working very well lately. First messaging, then decentralised internet just like HBO Silicon Valley!
    BigDannlibertyforallwatto_cobra
  • Reply 4 of 17
    AppleTalk 2020
    StrangeDayswatto_cobra
  • Reply 5 of 17
    I'm perplexed how an Apple Watch or any other device would "know" an emergency or natural disaster has occurred. How is that emergency status communicated to the device? And who decides what's an "emergency"? Right now the US President has declared an emergency and not everyone agrees with him on that. Does Tim Apple trigger the emergency event that causes our Watches to behave differently?
    muthuk_vanalingam
  • Reply 6 of 17
    dewmedewme Posts: 2,019member
    This is an interesting application of a dynamically adaptive software defined networking (SDN) and spanning tree protocols. A lot of the synchronous device to device (D2D) communication techniques can be adopted from high speed motion control systems used in industrial automation, namely those involving isochronous control. Time synchronization technology is similarly adoptable using existing IEEE 1588 precision time protocol (PTP) implementations. Likewise many device-level discovery protocols and bandwidth adaptive protocols (like 6LoWPAN) already exist.

    One of my pet peeves with technologists is that they too often seek to invent new technology to solve problems when it is very possible to solve the problem by adopting or adapting existing technology. It often seems that there are silos of technology that exist between different problem domains where each one fails to see that very similar or the exact same types of problems have been solved, or partially solved, in other problem domains, e.g., industrial automation versus medical systems versus aerospace/military. Instead of adopting, adapting, and reusing everyone wants to invent. This highlights a very important distinction between innovation and invention. Innovation occurs when something delivers value to its consumers. Invention by itself has little value until it solves a problem. Once invention is put to good use it transforms into innovation. The application of existing inventions via adoption, adaptation, or reuse very often results in innovation. Inventing something when adoption, adaptation, or reuse were possible somewhat reduces the innovation potential of the invention. 

    Not knocking Apple's work at all. I just wish that there was a greater cross-domain focus on solving these types of common connectivity problems and a lot more effort to adopt and adapt existing technology whenever possible. Inventing and building things from scratch is incredibly expensive and time consuming. 
    BigDannapplesnorangespscooter63
  • Reply 7 of 17
    StrangeDaysStrangeDays Posts: 7,297member
    I'm perplexed how an Apple Watch or any other device would "know" an emergency or natural disaster has occurred. How is that emergency status communicated to the device? And who decides what's an "emergency"? Right now the US President has declared an emergency and not everyone agrees with him on that. Does Tim Apple trigger the emergency event that causes our Watches to behave differently?
    No.
    fastasleeppscooter63
  • Reply 8 of 17
    chudq.ca@gmail.com[email protected] Posts: 5unconfirmed, member
    Really interesting patterns. Not all devices are directly connected to 3/4/5G network. Only one, iPhone, is enough. This really simplifies connectivity to outside on devices. And I guess that this would be very secure.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 9 of 17
    JFC_PAJFC_PA Posts: 302member
    I'm perplexed how an Apple Watch or any other device would "know" an emergency or natural disaster has occurred. How is that emergency status communicated to the device? And who decides what's an "emergency"? Right now the US President has declared an emergency and not everyone agrees with him on that. Does Tim Apple trigger the emergency event that causes our Watches to behave differently?
    Conditionally determined: no cell service available but other devices detected and it offers to reach out perhaps. 

    Hence: “a natural disaster that knocks out or overloads cellular networks in an area. ”
    edited March 21 fastasleepwatto_cobra
  • Reply 10 of 17
    fastasleepfastasleep Posts: 2,686member
    I'm perplexed how an Apple Watch or any other device would "know" an emergency or natural disaster has occurred. How is that emergency status communicated to the device? And who decides what's an "emergency"? Right now the US President has declared an emergency and not everyone agrees with him on that. Does Tim Apple trigger the emergency event that causes our Watches to behave differently?
    The word "emergency" isn't found in the three patents this article links to. AI presumably used it in the headline as a speculative use for the technology, and the natural disaster example they give is but one application, don't stress out about it.
    edited March 21 berndogwatto_cobra
  • Reply 11 of 17
    mattinozmattinoz Posts: 1,036member
    Soli said:
    I love this idea. I'd also like to see it allowed for areas where regular communications are usually killed but where you're likely still within a moderate range of other people, like National Parks, that even basic voice or text communication could relay out to a normal cell tower where a call could potentially be bad, thereby no longer needing to carry a sat radio with me for emergencies when I'm off the grid.
    Almost at the other end of population density, a school could use it the create no internet access between students and school resources like video, library and class materials.  At the same time Kids would only have more general/filtered internal access via a parents device.
    libertyforallwatto_cobra
  • Reply 12 of 17
    danoxdanox Posts: 386member
    Shouldn't have canceled Airport routers??
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 13 of 17
    macguimacgui Posts: 1,178member
    danox said:
    Shouldn't have canceled Airport routers??
    Apple just put them into an electronic chrysalis.
    pscooter63watto_cobra
  • Reply 14 of 17
    wd4fsuwd4fsu Posts: 11member
    gutengel said:
    I hope this becomes a reality soon. The only options available now are Zello, that is decent, and FireChat which is not working very well lately. First messaging, then decentralised internet just like HBO Silicon Valley!
    Zello still requires an internet connection, no?
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 15 of 17
     This functionality should’ve been out a long time ago, and should not just be for an emergency but anytime you can’t get the network connection! 

     Additionally you should be able to use your same cellular service from an Apple device with any car you use. Nobody should have to pay for a second cellular connection in the vehicle when you already have one in your pocket!   Along those lines Apple needs a CarKit, the same kind of thing like HomeKit but for the car. 
    edited March 23 watto_cobra
  • Reply 16 of 17
    radarthekatradarthekat Posts: 3,030moderator
    The trick is to get most devices signed into a single standard.  For donreasin this reminds me of Star Trek, where messages are sent on a sub-space frequency.  Sounds cool, whatever that is.  But imagine all smartphones, and some other devices with sufficient battery power, having extra hardware, separate for security reasons, to participate in this type of network.  That hardware and it’s supporting mini-OS has the task of creating its own little hotspot and detecting and connecting others within range to establish a wide area network.  It might then be agnostic with regard to what traffic flowed on the network.  Then each smartphone or other device could utilize the network just like a WiFi hotspot.  Which is, of course, the whole idea.
    watto_cobra
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