PoLTE pivots to focus on cellular IoT

The challenges of locating mobile phones indoors are well known within the industry, but finding all those internet of things devices coming online? That’s something PoLTE is laser-focused on these days.

Ed Chao, the former lead technology executive at MetroPCS before it was acquired by T-Mobile in 2013, assumed the role of CTO at PoLTE in January 2018 and in May, his title changed to CEO—all for the right reasons, he told FierceWirelessTech.

To understand where PoLTE is headed today, it’s worthwhile to revisit where it’s been. The company, founded by Russ Markhovsky, who remains as president, over the past decade developed a massive patent portfolio, which now stands at 26 patents and 40 pending. Early on, it zeroed in on E911 and indoor tracking, focusing on the creation of a stand-alone system tailored to retail, warehousing and other indoor use cases.

They perfected how the technology works, but as it turned out, building an entire in-building ecosystem from infrastructure to device was a daunting undertaking. When Chao met Markhovsky, the company had already started to pivot and apply its know-how to LTE, which, it just so happened, was what Chao was busy deploying at MetroPCS and later for a time at T-Mobile, where he remained for about a year after the acquisition.

While at MetroPCS, Chao led the prepaid operator’s rollout of LTE and VoLTE, two firsts in the U.S. (Notably, T-Mobile’s claim about being first with VoLTE includes the term “nationwide.”) Chao, who was an executive at Lucent Technologies before his MetroPCS stint, can leverage his knowledge of the vendor and carrier community to help steer PoLTE in its goal to provide location for cellular-based IoT devices.

“We really have something special for what we believe is the best accuracy possible using the cell network for IoT devices,” he said. In addition, it offers lower cost and longer battery life than alternatives do.

RELATED: Apple to use RapidSOS tech to deliver more accurate 911 location info

Getting new technology into handsets always has been challenging, especially for a startup. Was it just too difficult to get handset makers to incorporate PoLTE’s technology into handsets?

“It’s easier for us to work with the IoT ecosystem because the players are still developing their solutions,” he said, and the ability to partner with chipset companies to get its technology in devices is a lot easier now with an IoT device rather than getting into the middle of an iPhone. “This is all about go-to-market strategy for us.”

Apple recently announced it will use technology from startup RapidSOS to improve the location information sent from 911 iPhone calls to first responders. Chao said he views Apple’s move with RapidSOS as complementary to what PoLTE is doing.

RELATED: PoLTE cites progress in road to commercializing LTE-based location technology

PoLTE's focus right now is IoT, not handsets, and the IoT opportunity is big enough on its own, he said, noting that the forecast for cellular IoT connections has nearly doubled since November 2017, according to Ericsson’s latest mobility report. It’s now expected to reach 3.5 billion in 2023, with new technologies like NB-IoT and Cat-M1 fueling the growth.

PoLTE’s timing appears to be spot on. The PoLTE architecture uses signals from existing LTE networks and supports all mobile IoT variants, including LTE Cat-1, LTE-M and NB-IoT. The real hot spots for PoLTE, however, are LTE-M and Cat-1 because they are by definition mobile, Chao said. The location of fixed objects isn’t as much of a mystery. 

Chao talks about use cases such as embedding PoLTE technology in packages to track them from the warehouse to the doorstop, serving financial services by putting it in a credit card or even into expensive articles of clothing that people don’t want to lose.

It’s also applicable to the public safety community. “I really do think the PoLTE technology can be applied to save lives,” he said. “The vision that we have there is it’s not just 911, just trying to locate a person.” It’s leveraging all the IoT devices that are around a person to provide better situational awareness for first responders, and the first responders themselves could wear IoT devices on their belts or uniforms to be connected with all the other IoT around them.

The company doesn’t rule out seeing its software get into handsets. Any LTE or 5G chipset with PoLTE’s firmware on it can use PoLTE’s technology for location. If a handset manufacturer wanted PoLTE’s technology on its device to make it smaller, lower cost and location-accurate indoors and out seamlessly (never handing off from GPS to Wi-Fi to Bluetooth to cellular as the device would stay on cellular continuously), that manufacturer could source a PoLTE-enabled chipset to use in their device.

Bottom line: “We’re bringing this technology to market now. We believe we have the best solution for cellular connected IoT,” Chao said, adding that they’re also keeping an eye on 5G and all the opportunities that represents. “The nice thing about our solution … is that we have a long-term road map.”