Qualcomm’s FlashLinq, Wi-Fi Direct and the New Connectivity

Qualcomm (s qcom) introduced a new peer-to-peer communication technology to allow devices to connect to one another to share broadband speeds. Dubbed FlashLinq, the technology is one of several attempt to change the way devices connect –creating a more distributed and more resilient network. The technology isn’t that new — Qualcomm showed it off back in June at its developer conference, but given the attention given lately for distributed networks thanks to Egyptian protests and the shut down of the country’s Internet infrastructure for a few days, it’s time perhaps has come.

FlashLinq’s value as a distributed network is primarily for carriers, however, not protestors or those looking for a way to share connectivity outside of their expensive mobile broadband contracts. FlashLinq is a proprietary Qualcomm technology built into its radios that allows devices to automatically discover thousands of other FlashLinq enabled devices within 1 kilometer and share a broadband connection with them. Unlike Intel’s (s intc) Wi-Fi Direct’s peer-to-peer technology, Qualcomm’s FlashLinq can share Internet connectivity. Wi-Fi Direct connects devices together for data sharing, but doesn’t link back to the web. Qualcomm says the technology, “enables devices to discover each other automatically and continuously, and to communicate, peer-to-peer, at broadband speeds without the need for intermediary infrastructure.” The chip company is working with SK Telecom in Korea to test the technology.

Qualcomm’s strategy with FlashLinq is different from other P2P or distributed network architectures proposed by groups such as the mesh networking effort pushed by The Serval Project or Commotion Wireless, which is trying to build open source firmware to enable routers to create an open mesh network. FlashLinq on the other hand, is designed to share an existing connection to a cellular network among many devices, but will work on licensed spectrum, which requires the operator’s approval. From the Qualcomm release:

FlashLinq advances a concept known as proximal communications, whereby users can continuously connect, disconnect and communicate directly with other mobile users at broadband speeds based on their physical proximity. The technology is designed to complement traditional cellular-based services and serve as a scalable platform for new types of applications.

The technology gives yet another way for mobile operators to extend their cell networks out beyond base stations and provide coverage, but it also brings more complexity back to the network. As more people and devices are connected to the network and need to communicate with each other, sending that information back to a centralized network doesn’t make sense. Qualcomm envisions this for person-to-person communications, secure mobile payments, advertising and any other use that would benefit from device-to-device connectivity, as opposed to traveling back to the core network. Much as I’ve written in recent weeks, operators are struggling to add more capacity and intelligence to the network while finding ways to do so without increasing staff. With built-in interference management FlashLinq can extend the network, and automatically adjusts to avoid harming the network in a way that could help operators without adding costs. I’ve covered similar technologies as well as the need for them.

However, because of the peer-to-peer nature of FlashLinq, it also falls within the group of technologies that people are using to create their own networks between devices or in some cases, back to the web using Wi-Fi as backhaul. As I said yesterday, our mobile network is becoming more distributed as we need more from it. It’s pretty awesome stuff.

Bonus Wi-Fi Direct Video for those who want to see something in action:

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