Apple Patents Communication System That Can Allow a Device to Relay Its Network in Crisis Situations

Apple has been granted a patent for a communication system related to Lawful Intercept (LI) services — the legally approved surveillance of telecommunication services — for mobile communication devices. The system in question is designed to extend cellular coverage to other devices in areas where there is no network coverage. Apart from LI, the technology can also be used in emergency situations such as a terrorist attack or natural disaster where there’s a high possibility of network collapse and communication is the key to people’s survival.

Apple has been awarded a patent filed with the US Patent and Trademark Office and it facilitates lawful intercept reporting in wireless networks using public safety relays. According to the patent, a communication device such as an iPhone that has cellular coverage can relay information to another handset that does not have connectivity.

Usually, devices are connected via an access point that is part of the network infrastructure. However, there are other ways, called “proximity services” (ProSe), that establish direct communication between wireless devices. Apart from being used by law enforcement agencies for investigating/ prosecuting criminal operations, this method of establishing a connection and relay communication could prove to be a game changer in emergency situations and save many lives.

“In ProSe communications, a relay device (such as a mobile device acting as a relay device) may be used to couple another mobile device (such as one that is out of the coverage area of the cellular network) to the cellular network. Implementing lawful intercept in this situation can be problematic, however, as the mobile device that is to be targeted for lawful intercept may not be visible to the cellular network,” the patent explains.

The same technology can also be used for communication during crisis situations. For example, there is a flood situation and a team of skilled workers are engaged in rescue operations. Half of them stay outdoors and a sub-team goes into a building to rescue the stranded. Now suppose rubble is blocking cellular networks and hence the communication. In this situation, User Equipment (UE) (which may be a smartphone) that has a cellular network may act as a relay device for other members of the group who are not receiving any signals.

The concept is quite like sharing a hotspot. There must have been times when a certain service provider was unavailable in a certain area and the other offered strong signals. The UE connected to the service provider that offers strong signals can give a hotspot to the UE that does not have any signals for communication.

It is to be noted that all patents granted to a company may or may not be implemented in the products.

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