Bell is developing wearable technology it claims is better than Apple Watch or Fitbit

BCE / Illustration by Hanna Lee

Bell is developing wearable-device technology it claims is superior to an Apple Watch or Fitbit, The Logic has learned. 

The technology measures its wearer’s heart rate, temperature, speed and location, among other variables. The telecommunications giant is looking at rolling out a version for use by the general population, as well as features for diabetics and the elderly, and some that could be used to monitor parolees and prisoners. 

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Talking Point

The wearables market is growing, but crowded. London-based research firm GlobalData estimates that yearly worldwide revenue from wearables will jump from nearly US$23 billion in 2018 to US$54 billion by 2023. Bell’s patent application suggests a way for it to make revenue regardless of who comes out ahead in the wearables market, by offering technology tailored to specific populations.

Bell would be the first Canadian telecom to launch this kind of wearable technology. 

“The point of difference between what Bell is proposing and what’s already out there in the market would be quite unique,” said Jonathan Peake, a senior lecturer at the Queensland University of Technology. 

Bell has applied for patents in the U.S. and Canada that lay out a comprehensive vision for how its wearable technology could be used both by individuals looking to monitor ill loved ones, and by institutions wanting to track large populations. 

The U.S. patent application, which was filed in December 2018 and became public in June, discusses how the telecom can build its own wearable bracelet. However, the company told The Logic it no longer intends to produce its own hardware and is instead hoping other firms will integrate its technology into their devices. 

“We aren’t building a new device, but rather network technology toolkits for application developers and third-party device manufacturers to use in providing direct cellular connections for their devices, and specifically for providing connectivity to Bell’s LTE-M network,” said company spokesperson Marc Choma. 

Bell already has some LTE-based partnerships. In October 2018, it announced a deal with Ford to provide in-car Wi-Fi via built-in 4G LTE. 

The telecom’s patent application claims its technology is superior to the Apple Watch, Fitbit and Life Alert, due to its longer battery life and direct connection with a cellular network. 

“The usefulness of some wearable devices may be inhibited by a short battery life, particularly for long-term monitoring situations such as those involving the elderly, where the wearable device may have to be recharged every few days,” reads the application. 

“The LTE-M network provides low-power connections for a broad range of [Internet of Things] applications, and in the case of medical monitoring solutions for seniors, can provide life-saving alerts for a variety of conditions,” Choma said.

Bell is in the midst of a broader tech push as it looks to diversify beyond its core internet and cellphone businesses. In February, the company announced a smart-city partnership with Markham, Ont. It’s also developing a vehicle-tracking business and a real-time delivery arm for shippers.

The wearables market is growing, but crowded. London-based research firm GlobalData estimates that yearly worldwide revenue from wearables will jump from almost US$23 billion in 2018 to US$54 billion by 2023. Google is the latest Big Tech firm with designs on the space—it’s buying Fitbit for US$2.1 billion; it was worth nearly US$10 billion as recently as 2015, but increased competition from dozens of wearables firms, most notably Apple and Samsung, have slashed Fitbit’s value. 

Bell’s patent application suggests an opportunity regardless of which company comes out ahead in the general wearables market, by offering technology tailored to specific populations. For diabetics, Bell proposes a blood sugar monitor that would integrate with a smart device. For law enforcement, it suggests location and heart rate-monitoring features. 

“The smart bracelet may be used to monitor prisoners or parolees, tracking their location with low power consumption and also being able to measure other parameters such as their heart rate, which may be an indication that they are using illegal substances if it becomes too high,” reads the patent. 

Bell’s patent application suggests the device’s battery life would be extended by using a less text-rich screen.

“The wearable device may provide a relatively simple user interface, for example using LEDs rather than a full display to reduce power consumption, so that the wearable device may monitor the user for a long period of time without requiring the wearable device to be removed for recharging,” reads the document.

Specific parameters for the device would be set via either a paired mobile app or a web page where it could be set to alert the user, a caregiver, or emergency services, depending on different circumstances.

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For example, if a wearer falls, the device could notify a caregiver. If the user’s heart rate increases to 180 beats per minute, it could call an ambulance. The device could also come with an SOS system, where pressing a button a certain number of times would notify emergency services. It could also be used to monitor its wearer’s location. 

“If the user goes more than 5 m outside of a geofence…the smart bracelet may be configured to turn on a red LED light and read a message to the user over the bracelet’s speaker,” reads the patent application, “for example: ‘We have seen that you have left your predetermined location setting. An emergency alert notification has been sent to your emergency contacts.’”