Former T-Mobile exec leads M87’s efforts to create ‘Proximate Internet’

M87 graphic
Image: M87

Former T-Mobile executive Cole Brodman has joined software company M87 as CEO, pitching a solution that will enable wireless carriers and app developers to create a “Proximate Internet” by connecting devices directly at the edge of the network.

M87 just announced a $5 million financing round led by Madrona Venture Group, with participation from Qualcomm Ventures and Trilogy Equity Partners. M87 plans to use the funds to hire engineering talent and scale the business on the resource side while getting ready for commercial release and finishing trials with partners, Brodman told FierceWirelessTech.

Cole Brodman
Cole Brodman, CEO of M87

He declined to name any carriers but said M87 has done trials with operators both in the U.S. and internationally. The technology was developed by engineers at the University of Texas at Austin, but the company is relocating to the Seattle area.

M87 says that through its technology platform, devices create a “Proximate Internet”: a network of devices in the same physical area connected via the M87 technology. By connecting devices directly at the edge of the network, M87’s software creates a platform that significantly improves connectivity for phones in poor coverage areas.

M87 is pursuing two paths to market: One is through wireless carriers to help them improve capacity and the other is through application developers.

As cellular operators grapple with network and coverage demands, M87’s edge network solution allows wireless carriers to deploy the software and offer better service. Smartphones discover other nearby smartphones and allow phones with poorer coverage to work with the devices that are getting better coverage in a coordinated fashion to get the signals/data requests much more efficiently. That way, the carrier sees improved coverage and capacity and the user sees improved throughput, Brodman explained.

It’s essentially enabling devices to become a mobile beacon of sorts to discover things and devices around them dynamically across operating systems (iOS and Android) and across radio technologies like Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. “We create dynamic mesh networks, if you will, to allow devices to discover each other, to discover things nearby, to connect and communicate directly to each other,” Brodman said.

Most carriers that choose to adopt the software would likely confine it to their own customers, but outside the U.S., there’s more network sharing among carriers and they could decide to share resources.

Brodman says he expects the company to double its staff within the first half of next year, bringing it from under 10 people into the mid-teens.

In a blog, Len Jordan, managing director at Madrona Venture Group, noted that M87’s technology focuses on the edge of the network. “Today’s mobile devices offer the ability to move the ‘edge of the network’ all the way to the end-user,” he wrote. “Technologies such as Wifi Direct and LTE, which the majority of the world’s 4B+ mobile phones use, enable end points to redistribute content back into the network. M87’s technology taps into this ability and liberates an incredible array of new applications around industrial and consumer IoT, messaging and retail, presence awareness and instant connectivity.”

He also noted that the company’s name refers to one of the largest galaxies in the universe, Messier 87, which “is one of the brightest sources of radio waves.”

If operators are tightening their budgets and spending less on hardware, they just might want to give M87’s software a chance. Brodman declined to comment, however, as to whether his former employer T-Mobile has taken a gander.