HP's building an avatar to manage your mobile connections

The company is developing a cloud-based service to manage devices and connections based on context

Hewlett-Packard researchers are developing a cloud-based "avatar" to manage all of a user's mobile devices and wireless networks.

Their idea is to give individual users an identity that transcends the many smartphones, tablets and other devices they may carry, as well as all the Wi-Fi and cellular networks they use in different situations. HP's avatar would pick the best combination of hardware and network for each situation and automatically set up and take down connections, said HP Fellow Paul Congdon, who works in the company's Networking & Communications Lab.

For employees and consumers, getting the avatar might be as easy as downloading a mobile app, but the guts of the system would be a cloud-based software platform that HP could offer as a service to enterprises and carriers. The concept, called Mobile Personal Grid, was one recent development that HP researchers presented at a media event on Thursday morning.

The avatar could help enterprises administer BYOD (bring your own device) policies and make life easier for mobile users who want to stay online in the fastest, cheapest way possible, according to HP. Today, much of the effort involved is manual.

"There's so much burden that the user has today to get connected to the network," Congdon said. Mobile Personal Grid is designed to ease that headache. "This is automatic ad hoc networking," he said.

By collecting information from mobile devices and applying cloud-based intelligence, including data analysis by HP's Autonomy software, the Mobile Personal Grid could always understand the user's context, Congdon said. Context could include remaining battery life, available networks, Wi-Fi and cellular signal strength, location, and what the user is doing. The avatar could even look into a user's calendar to get set up correctly for upcoming events. All of those factors, along with preset policies, could help determine the best configuration, he said.

HP demonstrated several examples of what the avatar could do to manage devices. In a setting with no nearby wireless LANs, a Wi-Fi-only tablet could get online by tethering to a smartphone. If that phone's battery started running low and the user had another one, the tablet could switch over. Once a Wi-Fi network came into view, all the devices could shift onto the LAN to save battery life and cellular data charges. All the changes would happen automatically.

Because the back-end software runs in the cloud, there's no need for all of a user's devices to coordinate with each other one on one, Congdon said. Neither devices nor networks would need special wireless protocols to communicate with the user's avatar, because that communication would take place in the back end, over the Internet. HP envisions offering APIs (application programming interfaces) so carriers and other third parties can participate in the information flow, Congdon said.

HP researchers are talking with other groups in the company about how to turn the avatar technology into products. HP's services group may offer it in conjunction with BTO (business technology optimization) software to help enterprises manage mobile use of their applications. The company is also interested in delivering Mobile Personal Grid on a PAAS (platform as a service) basis to mobile operators, who could run it on HP's cloud but offer it under their own brands, Congdon said.

The company doesn't have a forecast for when its mobile avatars will become available, though. There are still issues to be worked out. For example, if an enterprise set up a mobile avatar for an employee and that same employee got one from a carrier, those avatars might not make the same decisions. It's not yet clear how to prevent this "dueling avatar" problem, Congdon said, though there are mechanisms for avatars to communicate with one another.

Stephen Lawson covers mobile, storage and networking technologies for The IDG News Service. Follow Stephen on Twitter at @sdlawsonmedia. Stephen's e-mail address is stephen_lawson@idg.com

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