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Management System Diversity: “Manage WLANs from Anywhere Using Anything!”

April 2nd, 2014

So much competitive marketing noise has been made over the last half dozen years about managing WLANs that vendors are now trying to manage WLANs from anywhere using everything. It wouldn’t surprise me in the least to hear a vendor say that they can now manage a branch WLAN in France from the comfort of their kitchen’s refrigerator’s management widget. It has gotten downright silly. I thought I would recap just how diverse the WLAN management scene has become: first for a good laugh, and second as a reference for those newcomers to the Wi-Fi industry.

You may be thinking, “why are there so many ways to manage a Wi-Fi system?” There’s a variety of answers to that question, such as:

  • Cost
  • Differing use cases
  • Partner eco-system
  • User preference

Not every vendor provides each of the management methods described below, but rest assured that every vendor will tell you that you don’t need anything other than what they sell. Can I get an amen? Below, I have offered a visual reference of the seven prevalent methods of managing a Wi-Fi infrastructure. It’s important to note that I will not address Wi-Fi client management methodologies in this post.

WLAN-management-diversity

WNMS in a Virtual Machine (VM)

One of the most popular methods of deploying a true WNMS today is as a VM. It’s a low-cost, flexible, scalable option that is profitable, easily updated, and easily distributed for vendors (since it’s only software). Customers love it because almost every organization has a VM infrastructure these days. Those who don’t typically use…you guessed it…the cloud. VM-based WNMS systems are classified as true WNMS because they can manage multiple elements across multiple locations, they usually handle policy-based management, compliance/reporting, location services, configuration/monitoring, planning, and much more.

WNMS in an Appliance

A WNMS in an Appliance is simply WNMS software that has been installed onto an appropriately-chosen hardware platform by the vendor. A set of recommended specifications are then documented by the vendor that informs user about the maximum number of devices that should/can be managed with the platform. Sometimes the vendor security-hardens the platform as a value-add.

Wireless Network Management System (WNMS) in the Cloud

Cloud management is all the rage. In fact, if you’re a vendor and don’t offer it, I dare say that you’ve fallen dreadfully behind the times. Cloud management is especially appropriate for users with distributed environments, remote or home-based workers, and those who prefer an OPEX-based (subscription-based) payment strategy.

Do not confuse putting a hardware or software controller (or set of controllers) in a data center for cloud management. A cloud management system is a multi-tenant system whereby system resources can be allocated and provisioned to various customers leveraging economies of scale. A cloud system is flexible enough to grow when/where needed and is essentially unlimited in scale. Vendor marketing departments love to cause confusion around cloud offerings when their company does not offer cloud management as an option, so be sure to ask your vendor to explain what their cloud is and how it works.

The term Public Cloud means pretty much the same thing across all vendors who use the term, but the term Private Cloud has varying meanings across vendors. It’s for that reason that I wanted to clarify the two prevailing definitions for Private Cloud:

  • Definition #1: WNMS (Appliance or VM) in a private data center
  • Definition #2: Dedicated (versus the normal shared) server space within a cloud infrastructure

Customers should ask their vendors to clarify what they mean when they use the term Private Cloud.

Application-based Management

Some vendors have chosen to put their configuration interface into an application, and these applications are now beginning to show up on mobile platforms (e.g. iPad). Application-based management software for mobile platforms is often a subset of the desktop version or controller-based management interface and is meant to offer the user an exceptionally good experience. Mobile applications are renowned for their simplicity, beauty, and flexibility. These applications are heavily focused on configuration, and are likely to have very little in the way of monitoring, reporting, location services, planning, etc.

Such management applications tend to be element managers rather than policy-based management systems, and are often not sophisticated. Their benefit lies in their simplicity and flexibility.

Controller-based Management

The reason that I don’t give controller-based management the moniker of WNMS is that controllers were never designed for full-scale management. You can think of the CLI or GUI within a controller as being designed in the original likeness of an autonomous AP. Autonomous APs had (and still have) an integrated GUI (and some had a CLI) designed primarily for configuration. While configuration is part of management, autonomous AP GUIs/CLIs had few monitoring, reporting, planning, mapping, or other management functions within the interface. Likewise, when the industry moved to controllers and controller-based APs, the controller became the original point of configuration.

While a reasonable amount of monitoring sophistication has been added to controllers over the years, controller-based management is still element-based (meaning that it only monitors itself) and contains almost none of the common enterprise-class, large-scale WNMS features.

Controller-in-Software Management

Yes, vendors actually do this. The make a software controller and run it as an application or within a VM. Either way, it acts exactly like a controller appliance and has all of the management shortcomings thereof. However, it may be offered to customers at no charge, which is a strong benefit. You still have to consider the cost of the hardware that the software must be installed onto, but that could well be a sunk cost already or minimal because it’s a set of shared commodity hardware within your data center. A saving grace of this approach is that with it being a pure software play, it’s possible for such platforms to morph more quickly into a true WNMS.

Master Access Point (AP) based Management

We have seen systems come and go over the years that sported this feature. Some vendors have installed the feature and then taken it back out again because they felt like it took away from their ability to sell other types of management (e.g. cloud). Managing a set of APs via a single Master AP can be very simple, free, and yet is always scale-limited by design. Depending on the vendor, this choice can be feature-rich or feature-poor, but it’s often great for small mid-market customers who have a single location or have a qualified administrator at each location.

Like Controller-based Management, the interface found in Master APs is usually highly geared toward configuration. There may be some modest amount of monitoring capability, but it’s not comparable to a WNMS. Further, other WNMS important features such as reporting, location services, and planning are missing. It’s for these reasons that I do not call this form of management a WNMS.

Summary

There are just so many….take your pick(s). Some are free. Some are crazy-expensive. Some are CAPEX-based, and some are OPEX-based. Most vendors offer at least two methods of managing their Wi-Fi infrastructure, and some vendors purposefully don’t offer specific types of management interfaces out of fear that it will cannibalize certain others that they sell. Some vendors go all-out and provide everything with the hope that their flexibility will win out in the end. There’s probably no best approach, so you should decide for yourself.

When you get into today’s frequently-overheard conversation about unified wired/wireless management (among the large campus enterprise vendors) the proper choice of WNMS becomes even more important. Should you go with a single-vendor or multi-vendor system? Some vendors have used multi-vendor WNMSs to woo customers away from their competitors over the years, and the strategy has worked remarkably well in some cases.

I could go on and on about management systems, but I think that gives you a good primer. What are your thoughts? Want to share any insights?

Best practices, Cloud computing, WiFi Access, WLAN planning

Away from Corner Cases: High Density, Low Throughput Wi-Fi

March 19th, 2014

In my blog called Corner Cases, I mentioned that high density, high throughput (HDHT) cases are in the extreme minority (<1%). In this blog, I would like to discuss High Density, Low Throughput (HDLT), which I believe will be the situation that over half of the installed Wi-Fi infrastructures of the world will face at some point over the next 5-7 years. I want to clarify that that when I use the term “high density”, I’m referring to client density (lots of clients in a physical area), not AP density (lots of APs in a physical area).

Unless you’ve been camping out under a rock, you may have heard the term “Internet of Things” or IoT for short. This moniker refers to the movement toward connecting previously-unconnected devices onto the Internet. To clarify, things are being connected to the Internet, thus we get Internet of Things. So how many of these things are we talking about? Oh… a few I suppose. Gartner is saying there will be 26 billion IoT devices and an additional 7.3 billion smartphones/tablets/PCs by 2020. The vast majority of these devices will connect wirelessly, so we’re about to see a crazy explosion in device density. Obviously it doesn’t all grind to a stop in the year 2020, which is truly just around the corner.

The important point to make here is how device density affects: 1) network design, and 2) the type of equipment you purchase to appropriately support your customers (over the lifecycle of your next infrastructure upgrade/refresh). Most vendor marketing departments like to tightly bind high-density and high-throughput requirements together, but they are completely separate topics. You can have the following scenarios:

  • Low Density, Low Throughput (LDLT)
  • Low Density, High Throughput (LDHT)
  • High Density, Low Throughput (HDLT)
  • High Density, High Throughput (HDHT)

HDLT: the de facto standard

I don’t think that comes as a surprise to anyone. In the Corner Cases blog, I specifically addressed HDHT networks and pointed out that they are in the extreme minority today. HDLT networks are reasonably common today, but usually not to any extreme. When IoT bears its full weight on the market (which will be far sooner than you might realize), HDLT networks will be the de facto standard. In a nutshell, this means that APs will need to associate (connect) lots of devices (I foresee 100+ devices per radio becoming common fairly soon), but the traffic to/from each of those connected devices may often be sparse. APs will likely need good QoS, a good understanding of client behavior and needs, and of course security will be all-the-more important with the breadth of devices connecting to the network.

Let’s consider a specific scenario, the average branch office (perhaps real estate or insurance) with 20 employees, to make my point. Today, the branch could possibly have the following devices connected to the Wi-Fi infrastructure:

  • Laptops
  • Tablets
  • Smartphones
  • Printers (let’s hope not, but you never know)

Let’s fast-forward to the year 2020 and consider how that same branch office might look from a technology standpoint. What items within the office could feasibly be Internet-connected in addition to what they have today?

  • Security cameras
  • Printers (they definitely will)
  • Digital signage
  • Digital picture frames at workers’ desks
  • Appliances (e.g. refrigerator, water cooler, coffee maker)
  • Cars that are within range of the in-building (or outdoor) Wi-Fi
  • Wearable technology (watch computers, eyeglass computers, etc.)
  • Building controls (thermostats, security systems, fire systems, etc.)

I’m sure I could go on and on, but for the sake of time, I’ll stop listing things. I’m sure you got my point. It’ll be a ton of things for sure. Some will want some bandwidth (e.g. picture frames sucking down 3MB photos from a file share on a server at a pace of 1 new photo every 5 minutes times 10 picture frames in the office), and some will want very little (e.g. your digital watch updating you on the temperature outside). All-in-all, the bandwidth requirements will be modest at best, but the number of devices will be ridiculous.

Remember how BYOD started? Companies tried to stop it by creating company policies. Yeah, that worked out… NOT. It will be the same way for IoT. It will progress like this:

Users: We want our things on the Wi-Fi.
Admin: No.
Users: Yes, because if you don’t, _________.
Admin: OK, you win, but your devices will be firewalled, rate-limited, and highly controlled.
Users: I don’t care so long as they work properly. Hey wait, why doesn’t my picture frame work properly. It probably needs more bandwidth. Fix it.
Admin: No.
Users: We’ll tell.
Admin: Ugh! OK, it’s fixed, now leave me alone.

BYOD stands for Bring Your Own Device, and trust me, they will, but not just smartphones, tablets, and laptops. They’re going to bring Internet-enabled pens, shoes, and heart monitors. You, Mr. Admin, will be powerless to stop it. You thought all of this BYOD stuff had just about fizzled and was limited to just a few vertical markets didn’t you? Ha. It’s barely even begun, and you haven’t seen complexity yet… just wait. How will you manage those Internet-enabled pens again? No, I don’t mean just at Layer-2… that’s the first step. I mean at Layer-7 also. Sorry I had to break that news to you. Bumpy ride ahead.

There are companies today who are building cloud infrastructures that are specifically designed to manage all kinds of IoT devices for the manufacturers who make them. That’s good thinking. Not every company in the world wants to build a cloud to keep their Internet-enabled devices up-to-date and to push content to them.

In closing, I will reiterate that it will soon be the number of devices, not high throughput, that will become the more significant issue across a large section of the Wi-Fi market as a whole. Make a note, it’s coming.

BYOD, mobile device management, smartphones, WiFi Access, WLAN planning

Restaurant Wi-Fi Primer – On-demand Webinar from Hospitality Technology Magazine

March 3rd, 2014

Last week we participated in the Restaurant Wi-Fi Primer webinar with Hospitality Technology Magazine, Boston Market and Spartan Computer Services.

Kevin McCauley presented on best practices in retail Wi-Fi analytics and social media integration. To view the webinar on demand, go to Hospitality Technology (free registration required).

You can also view AirTight’s slides on SlideShare.

HT’s latest research indicates that restaurants are planning to increase their IT budgets in 2014, and investments in networks and telecom are one category that’s steadily on the rise. A well-designed Wi-Fi network, such as the one Boston Market is currently deploying, can allow restaurants to roll out a variety of enterprise applications, ranging from mobile POS to networked kitchen tools, and can also draw in customer traffic.

View the webinar to learn about:

  • Leveraging the network for analytics and social engagement
  • Network design tips and considerations
  • Common installation pitfalls to avoid
  • Controlling customer traffic
  • Measuring ROI for your install

Best practices, PCI, Retail, WLAN networks

Corner Cases

February 26th, 2014

Most Wi-Fi manufacturer’s marketing departments would have you believe that 99% of all deployments are what I’d call “corner cases.” I call B.S. (as usual).

Here are the high-density/high-throughput (HDHT) corner cases that so many manufacturers would have you believe are so prevalent:

  • Large K-12 and University libraries, cafeterias, lecture halls, and auditoriums
  • Stadium or gymnasium bowls
  • Large entertainment venues (e.g. music and theater halls, night clubs)
  • Trade shows
  • Urban hotspots
  • Airports

Combined, these use cases comprise less than 1% of all Wi-Fi installations.  In other words, the opposite of what many marketing departments would have you believe. Let’s look at this from another angle. Here’s a list of use cases that do NOT fall into the category of HDHT, but may have other technical challenges or requirements, yet these same marketing departments want customers to believe they are HDHT environments.

  • K-12 classrooms*
  • Malls
  • Majority of airports

* Note: Some folks believe that one AP per classroom (or even one AP per two classrooms) is a bad idea due to adjacent channel interference (ACI) or co-channel interference (CCI), but that’s a design matter based on a long list of design criteria that can include wall construction materials, AP output power, client device type, client device output power, and MUCH more. I assert that one AP per one (or two) classrooms is a good network design in many K-12 environments, and this usually means less than 35 devices per classroom, worst case. 35-70 devices per AP (2 radios) does not constitute high-density, but may necessitate good L1, L2 QoS, and L7 handling.

Consider all of the common deployments that constitute the majority of WLAN environments:

  • Office environments
  • Warehouses
  • Manufacturing
  • Hospitals
  • Distributed healthcare facilities
  • Cafes
  • Bookstores
  • Hotels

So if HDHT handling isn’t a big deal in 99% of the use cases, what is important? If you ask that question to those same vendor’s marketing departments, they would say Performance! Once again, I call B.S.

After speaking with a variety of network administrators and managers, I’ve found it very difficult to find anyone who can produce statistics showing an AP sustaining more than 10Mbps over the course of an 8-hour business day. Even the peak throughput on the busiest APs aren’t all that high (a couple of hundred Mbps sustained only for a couple of minutes while large files are being transferred). It’s been my experience that busy branch offices, with a single AP serving 50-60 people, is where you find the most sustained WLAN traffic over a single AP.

If 10Mbps is considered “a very busy AP”, and decent 2×2:2 802.11n APs can sustain 200+Mbps of throughput across two radios given the right RF and client environment, then why is everyone talking about performance? I hear vendors bragging about their 3×3:3 11ac APs being capable of 900+Mbps of throughput under optimal conditions. While that kind of throughput is sexy to IT geeks who think that “too much is never enough”, most customers just want it to work. At 200-400 Mbps of throughput for 802.11n APs, why do we care so much about buying premium-priced 11ac APs again?

What do we get out of those 11ac APs anyway? 256QAM is useful only at short range and only for 11ac clients. TxBF is only good at mid-range, and only for thoses client that support it, which is basically none. Rate-over-range is better for uplink transmissions, but if you’re designing for capacity, voice, or RTLS, then this is of no consequence. There may be slightly fewer retransmissions due to better radio quality, but that’s mostly “who cares” also. Bottom line: don’t upgrade your 11n infrastructure for the purpose of speed. If speed (e.g. rate-over-range and raw throughput) is your goal, spend your budget on refreshing your 11ac clients first.

Customers who rush out to buy the latest, greatest, fastest AP end up paying a big price premium for a performance gain that they’ll never, ever, ever, ever use. It’s just silly. They get duped by the marketing message that HDHT handling and ultra high-performance matter in 99% of use cases, when in fact it matters in <1% of the real world use cases. Wi-Fi infrastructure technology is progressing quickly, and the PHY/MAC layers are so far ahead of typical use cases that customers should be focused on correct Layer-2 design and receiving value above Layer-2:

  • Robust, global, cloud management and services option
  • Strong security, compliance and reporting
  • Device tracking / location services
  • Social media integration (i.e. Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter)
  • Guest and retail analytics
  • Managed services enablement

If you’re going to buy (or upgrade to) an 11ac infrastructure, there’s a very important reason to do it that is unrelated to the speed at which you move frames across the air: intelligence. Some APs don’t have the horsepower to do any significant local processing, and that leaves three options related to infrastructure intelligence:

1) don’t have any
2) send everything to the cloud
3) send everything to a controller

I prefer that APs have enough oomph to get the job done if that’s the optimal place to do the work. There are times when using the cloud makes sense (distributed, analytics), there are times when using the AP makes sense (application visibility/control), and there are times when using a controller makes sense (2008-2009). #CouldntResist

I’ll summarize all of this by asking that prospective customers of Wi-Fi infrastructure remember that they will likely never use even a small fraction of the throughput capabilities of an AP. What will have a significant impact is Wi-Fi system cost, Wi-Fi system architecture, and network design. Don’t get duped by the loud, obnoxious marketing hype around the speed/throughput. Think twice, buy once.

 

802.11ac, 802.11n, Best practices, WLAN planning

Reflections on Wireless Field Day 6

February 6th, 2014

What a week it was with WFD6 edutainment! Great minds from different vendors presented their great Wi-Fi stuff during WFD6. With so much happening, our challenge was to fit in as much update as possible in two hours.

Cloud comes first

Cloud is what AirTight is and will be evangelizing for years to come. Cloud is much more than just making device configurations remotely from a manager hosted in the Internet. Efficiency of cloud operations, provisioning to suit multiple business models including managed service providers and aggregation of services into single sign-on architecture will dictate what cloud Wi-Fi is about. We are focused on exactly this approach and WFD6 was an opportunity to display some of AirTight cloud’s capabilities to a tech-savvy audience. They say that what matters for success in e-commerce business is not just what is online, but what is in the back-office technology and processes. This applies to cloud Wi-Fi too. In order to scale the cloud, your back-end has the biggest role to play.

AirTight Networks Evolution – Cloud & MSP

Our security DNA: wireless intrusion prevention (WIPS)

WIPS business has been our hidden jewel, because we cannot publicly talk about most of customer success stories to abide by their security policies. There are subtle but crucial points which differentiate between WIPS adding value to infrastructure security or just becoming a nuisance due to false alarms. Whenever we get to demonstrate this point one-on-one with customers in bakeoffs, it was always an “aha” moment and they chose us as an overlay vendor on top of other Wi-Fi infrastructure. It is cheaper from TCO perspective and more secure. While that trend continues, now that WIPS is available at no extra cost with AirTight APs, we will see even more enterprises benefiting from it.

AirTight Networks WIPS at Wireless Field Day 6 WFD6

Finally, the great balloon heist

No WFD6 blog can be complete without the mention of our Wireless Field Day balloon. While WFD5 balloon was put to rest during a short off-camera ceremony at the beginning of AirTight’s session, a new contender has already emerged.

Watch the videos from WFD6:

More on AirTight from WFD6 delegates and participants:

AirTight Networks Rising by Lee Badman (@wirednot)
Wireless Field Day #6 – Day 1 Recap by Glenn Cate (@grcate)

WiFi Access, Wireless Field Day

AirTight at Wireless Field Day 6 #WFD6

January 29th, 2014

Thanks to all who watch the AirTight session live stream!

Videos

You can watch the WFD6 videos on our YouTube channel.

Twitter Highlights

Here are Twitter highlights from the event (in reverse chronological order, so you will get the praise first :-) )

If you are following the event live, use hashtags #WFD6, #MSP6 and #WiFun.

Follow @AirTight on Twitter for live updates.

You can follow WFD6 delegates on Twitter using our Twitter ist.

Wireless Field Day

Retail Analytics: Who Owns The Data?

January 14th, 2014

At AirTight Networks, we talk a lot of SMAC (Social, Mobile, Analytics, Cloud). Together these forces have come together to significantly impact and radically change various markets. It’s not hard to wax eloquent about SMAC for long periods of time, but in this article, I want to focus only on the Analytics piece – that numerical, statistical, miracle whip that drives business decisions.

Analytics Data: Type and Collection

In the SMAC model using Wi-Fi as the Mobile piece, data is collected from Wi-Fi access points. The analytics data itself generally falls into one of two categories: 1) Presence, and 2) Opt-in.

Presence Analytics
Presence Analytics is, as it sounds, focused around whether the client device is on-location (“present”) and whether it is inside or outside a boundary (e.g. a store front). This type of data is device-specific (MAC Address), independent from the user of a device (contains no user-identifying information), and therefore anonymous. It is collected by using Access Points (APs) to scan the air and to gather MAC addresses (which only a hashed representation thereof is stored). Presence Analytics can be used for a variety of things, but some examples might include:

  • Understanding total foot traffic (e.g. how many visitors came to your location)
  • Understanding capture rate of visitor traffic (e.g. which visitors came inside your store front and which ones stayed outside)
  • Understanding dwell time (e.g. visit duration) either inside or outside your location

AirTight Presence Analytics

The same capability that enables Presence Analytics also enables similar functions like Loyalty Analytics. Examples of this might be:

  • Understanding visitor frequency (how often do they come to see you?)
  • Understanding visit recency (when was the last time they came to see you?)
  • Understanding repeat visitor information (how many times have they come to this location over a period of time?)

Analytics: Unique visitors

Opt-in Analytics
Opt-in Analytics are obtained through a process whereby a person uses his/her mobile device to willingly engage the wireless infrastructure (and associated back-end systems). The typical scenario involves the use of a Captive Web Portal (CWP) to display terms and conditions and to allow the user to authenticate (log in) using one or more methods, such as:

  • Phone Number with SMS verification
  • Social Media integration (e.g. Facebook, Twitter, Google+, or LinkedIn login APIs)
  • Guestbook function where the user fills out a web form

Regardless of the process, the user is agreeing to the use policy in order to obtain a benefit, which is most often free Wi-Fi access, promotional coupons, location services, or perhaps all of these and more. The use policy allows the infrastructure to collect a specific amount of the user’s personal information that is determined by the user at the time of authentication.

Other Types of Analytics

Of course, all of those are just simple examples, but to be honest, analytics can get pretty sophisticated. Consider other types of relevant data, such as Engagement Analytics and Wi-Fi Usage Analytics.

Engagement Analytics 
Engagement Analytics might, for example, consist of:

  • Conversion and Bounce Rates (Did they come inside or stay outside? Did they use the Wi-Fi while in the store? Did they buy anything while in the store?)
  • Social Media Wi-Fi Authentication Visitor Logs (Who are they?)
  • Social Media Wi-Fi Authentication Demographics (How old? Male/Female? Where do they live?)

Engagement Analytics

Engagement Analytics allow the organization owner to pair up the device (which is identified with Presence Analytics capabilities) with the user of the device (which is possible because of Opt-in capabilities) and then tie those capabilities into back-end systems such as their CRM. That CRM system could then be used, in conjunction with the wireless infrastructure system and analytics engine, to:

  • Identify and locate a user’s device when it arrives on-location
  • Understand the owner of the device’s habits and desires (e.g. purchasing habits/desires if in retail)
  • Push context-relevant, location-relevant, and personalized content to the user in a timely fashion
  • Provide an entertaining experience while on-location

It might sound space-age, but it’s the holy grail of the retail market right now, and other markets will likely follow suit when retail has proven that it can be done well, end-to-end.

Wi-Fi Usage Analytics might, for example, consist of:

  • Device Types
  • Data Traffic
  • Session Duration

Having access to data such as average session duration may allow a quick service restaurant (QSR) to make a decision about how to configure their Wi-Fi infrastructure system. Some Wi-Fi infrastructure systems have a “black out timer” that imposes a no-use time after a configured period of use time. This type of data may help a coffee shop decide on whether to write their new mobile app for iOS or Android first. It may allow a financial services firm to decide on whether to upgrade their Internet backhaul pipe or apply protocol filtering to block peer-to-peer file sharing applications. There are 101 uses for Wi-Fi Usage Analytics.

All that rich data is just waiting to be mined for business-transforming information that can be easily organized into useful formats and compared across locations, and can help you decide on marketing spend and business expansion. All you need to get started is the right Wi-Fi solution.

Analytics Data Ownership

“Houston, we have a problem.” Yeah, that’s you when you find out that you don’t own the data…

“Say what? That doesn’t sound right…are you sure? Wait…where’s my contract! What do you MEAN I don’t own the data?” Yep, that’s you again…quickly growing worried and agitated since you’re the one who recommended the Wi-Fi vendor who’s either holding onto your analytics data awaiting ridiculous additional monthly fees or who has an analytics business partner who’s trying to perform unnatural acts with your wallet while the Wi-Fi vendor keeps you distracted.

“But it’s my system! It should be MY data! These are MY customers for crying out loud…who else’s data would it be?”

Oh, don’t worry… your analytics vendor has you covered. They can fix you up for… $_______ per AP per year. Or as my man Alan Jackson might say, “But don’t be downhearted, I can fix it for you, Sonny; It won’t take too long, it’ll just take money.”

Of course, if you buy AirTight Networks Wi-Fi and analytics, YOU own the data.

 

 

 

Retail, WiFi Access ,

AirTight Networks Joins with EarthLink for Social Wi-Fi and Analytics

January 13th, 2014

AirTight Networks secure cloud Wi-Fi will power EarthLink’s new WiFi/WIPS solution designed for the multi-unit retail industry. EarthLink announced the upcoming launch of this solution at NRF 2014.

Cloud, analytics, simplicity set AirTight apart

“Consumers are already using their mobile devices in-store to enhance their shopping experience. With EarthLink WiFi, retailers can roll out corporate applications to connect with those consumers and service them more efficiently, while gathering valuable data for marketing and store operations. AirTight’s offering stood apart with its cloud-based management, rich retail analytics and ease of deployment.” — Greg Griffiths, EarthLink Vice President of Retail Solutions

Live social media integration demo at NRF

The solution will be demonstrated at AirTight’s booth #1256 and EarthLink’s booth #1567. AirTight and EarthLink experts will be on hand to demonstrate and discuss the Wi-Fi offering. Visitors to either booth will get to experience the social media integration capabilities by logging into an actual social media portal. The demo will build AirTight’s and EarthLink’s social media reach, and visitors will get something of value – the same experience retailers are now able to provide in their stores.

Wi-Fi – now Infrastructure as a Service

“EarthLink’s full-service network capabilities make our enterprise-class Wi-Fi and security accessible to all retailers, whether small or large. Through our partnership with EarthLink, the technology can now be delivered as Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS). The IaaS model is ideal for multi-unit retail, where IT resources are often not available at an individual store level.” — Kevin McCauley, Director of Retail Market Development at AirTight

Retail-ready, “business first”

AirTight has served retailers for over a decade and has translated that knowledge into an enterprise-grade solution that does not compromise on features and security. AirTight’s secure cloud Wi-Fi dramatically reduces IT resources needed to roll-out and manage the network, resulting in low total cost of ownership. This is Wi-Fi with a “business first” approach, delivering business intelligence and brand engagement. The solution is retail-ready right out of the box, with secure guest and private Wi-Fi, PCI compliance scanning and 24/7 protection from wireless threats.

‘Appification’ of Wi-Fi

“The partnership with EarthLink validates the maturity of our cloud offering and our focus on the ‘appification of Wi-Fi. AirTight has raised the bar on wireless connectivity, converting it from ‘IT plumbing’ to a revenue-generating business initiative. We are excited about partnering with the number one managed service provider in North America and getting this solution into the hands of many more retailers.” — David King, CEO of AirTight

Are you at NRF? See the demo yourself and get a signed copy of The Retail Revival by Doug Stephens courtesy of AirTight. Meet Doug Stephens on our booth between 2 and 3 p.m. on Monday January 13, 2014.

NRF-2014

Retail, WiFi Access ,

The Holy Grail of Retail, Part 2

January 6th, 2014

This is part 2 of last week’s post The Holy Grail of Retail. In today’s installment, I discuss what it takes to reach it.

Operational Implementation

There is a set of coordinated technologies required to affect the Holy Grail. A complex set of variables if you will. It’s the responsibility of manufacturers to implement this set of technologies in such a way that they become a simplified, unified structure. This keeps the learning curve short, deployment and operational costs down, and assures a less error-prone implementation. Consider the following parts:

    • Wi-Fi infrastructure with cloud management & social media authentication
    • CRM system integration
    • Mobile devices, operating systems, and applications
    • Managed Service Provider (MSP) enablement (for those customers who want someone else to manage it for them)
    • Security services, such as WIPS and PCI compliance and reporting
    • Location services, which may be integrated with mobile applications
    • Infrastructure analytics and reporting, which may be tied into other systems

What’s even more of a challenge is when one or more of these technologies are provided by multiple vendors who have loose (or no) integration. I shudder to think…

Organizational Unity

Then there are the organizational challenges. While most people avoid this topic like the plague, I’m just the guy to bring it up because it’s reality and because ultimately those who care enough to investigate in this area will benefit.

I’m not young anymore, and I’ve been in the corporate world longer than I care to admit. If I know anything about corporate America, it’s that 9 out of 10 corporations are not operationally efficient or effective. We might have some bright minds and even good products or technology, but we often have poor peer (horizontal), reporting (vertical), and intra-/inter-departmental communication and even worse leadership and people management skills. It’s an epidemic and extremely costly, both to the individual corporation and to the American economy in general. Some other countries and cultures may differ, perhaps significantly, and I’m not speaking on their behalf, but being American, having lived in half a dozen states and worked in large and small companies across those states, I’m asserting that I know what I’m talking about regarding US-based companies.

So, to build upon that assertion, organizations are often unknowingly silo’d whereby, and THIS IS ONLY AN EXAMPLE, you might find within a prospective customer that a CIO and a CMO aren’t really communicating all that well. The CIO has her organizational perspective, goals, and tasks lists. The CMO has his organizational perspective, goals, and tasks lists. They should be coordinating and, at some point, their goals and execution should join hands for the benefit of the company and its customers, right? Well, they should, yes, but do they? Not always. In fact, not nearly as often as you might think.

In addition, most merchandising organizations within retailers are segmented by channel as well. What do I mean? The buyer who forecasts, orders, and is compensated on laundry detergent sales in-store is completely different than the buyer who forecasts, orders, and is compensated on laundry detergent sales online – within the same organization. If retailers want to truly enable ‘omni-channel’ services that are transparent to the customer and to provide a great customer experience, the internal organizational (which could even include the compensation structure) of retailers must change!

Obviously if you took a serious look at 1,000 companies of varied size across various vertical markets, you would find variations on high-level organizational issues, but you could expect findings like: poor communication, personality clashes, internal political situations, lack of leadership, lack of management skills, and probably more. These issues affect a retailer’s ability to execute on the Holy Grail just as much, if not more, than having the expertise and funding to execute on the operational implementation side of things.

Enter AirTight

How does AirTight, as a manufacturer, help retailers speed the Holy Grail process?

AirTight provides tightly-integrated technology solutions that are specifically tailored to the retail market. We understand the Holy Grail and how to reach it. Rather than just selling widgets to whomever will buy them, we have simplified a complex set of technology variables into a solution for the retail market.

AirTight provides enterprise-class Wi-Fi infrastructure with a user-friendly HTML5 management platform that can be delivered in one of four ways (hardware appliance, virtual appliance, private cloud, or public cloud) to offer flexibility and scale. Over the high-performance infrastructure, high-value services such as wireless intrusion prevention (WIPS), location services (RTLS), PCI compliance and reporting, robust analytics, social Wi-Fi authentication, BYOD on-boarding, and managed services enablement, and others are available.

Wi-Fi Holy Grail

The technology is there. Some vendors are ahead of others on integrating the complex set of system-wide components that enable the Holy Grail of Retail, and obviously I wouldn’t have spent my entire Friday night writing this blog if I didn’t believe that AirTight Networks was the front-runner among them. What I hope I have conveyed, however, is that there’s more to this puzzle than just some scattered technology and buzzwords. There are multiple technical pieces to the solution that have to be tightly integrated, and there is the human element, which is equally complex. Both are equally important if you are a retailer looking to nab your Holy Grail anytime soon.

NRF2014

Want to see this in action? See AirTight at NRF 2014, where will be demoing social media integration and retail analytics. Schedule an appointment, or stop by our booth 1256!

 

Retail, WiFi Access ,

The Holy Grail of Retail

January 2nd, 2014

In the retail market, the current Holy Grail is to unify the online and in-store shopping experiences (sometimes called ‘omni-channel’ retailing) such that the customer has a personalized shopping experience that promotes brand loyalty. The customer experience should be enjoyable and personalized, with available contextually relevant and timely information that makes interacting with the retailer effortless and transparent.

Technology Is Here
Will every salesperson know your name in not so distant future?

Will every salesperson know your name in the not so distant future?

The technology now exists to enable such capabilities, and retailers can drive a new generation of brand awareness and loyalty programs. The new focus will be on growing the business while leaving behind the worries of showrooming and shrinking margins.

Since the technology is here, why then isn’t every major retailer making a move toward the Holy Grail at a break-neck pace? Why can’t I walk into my local electronics store, expecting this guy to walk up to me with an iPad, and…

“Hi, I’m Jason. Welcome to Electro’s! Glad you’re here again, Mr Thompson.”

“Hi Jason. How did you… Uh, nevermind. Nice iPad.”

“Thanks. Company issue device. Your phone told me… neat, huh? So, how may I help you today?”

“Huh?”

“Oh, sorry. Allow me to explain. Our wireless system identified your phone by its MAC address, which is tied to our loyalty program, which you enrolled in last year. Our CRM system told my iPad that you entered the store. Since my iPad and your iPhone are obviously acquainted, is it OK if I call you Fred? Great, thanks. So Fred, if I were to mention that we have the Riad Wireless BL2009 802.11ac USB 3.0 adapter that’s in your Electro Online Wish List available here in the store, would that interest you today?”

“Well Jason, let me think about that for a second…. uh YES! How cool is THAT?”

“I kind of thought you might like that. I’ll have it pulled out of stock and taken to register 7 for you so that you can continue shopping. Is there anything else that I can help you with today?”

“Actually, yes. Do you have any more of those BL2009 units in stock here at this store?”

“Sure. We have three more. We correlated your Wish List with that of hundreds of others in the area and decided that it would probably be a good idea to stock a few of them just in case. I guess that turned out to be a good idea.”

“Fantastic. I’ll log into your guest Wi-Fi and let my peeps know that Electro has three more units. I bet they’ll be sold by the end of the day. They’re really in demand among my friends. Thanks for your help Jason.”

Wait… wait… wait… No! Not reality! Oh well… now that we’re back, where were we? Ah yes, that break-neck pace discussion. Is anyone else seeing retailers reaching an semblance of the Holy Grail yet? Are you having out-of-this-world, converged retail experiences yet? If not, have you considered why?

Where’s That Business Model Redesign?

When I walk into any kind of retailer, whether big-box discounters, restaurants or QSR, department stores, supermarkets, warehouse retailers, specialty shops, convenience stores, or any other, I’m just not seeing very much forward momentum. Jeff Roster, Gartner’s retail practice lead, said in a recent webinar that the retail industry would require “Business Model Redesign” due to the impact of Gartner’s “Nexus of Forces” (essentially the SMAC concept that AirTight talks so much about). I guess that business model redesign process is going more slowly than hoped-for with most retailers… What do you think?

  • Perhaps “break-neck pace” is relative, and my expectations are ridiculous?
  • Could it be lack of funding in the retail sector?
  • Maybe it could be a shortage of technical expertise among retailers?
  • A lack of motivation perchance? (e.g. they’re making lots of money with no competition)

No. I wouldn’t guess that it’s any of these reasons. Where I think the problem lies is with 1) operational implementation, and 2) organizational unity. You know what they say, “If it were easy, everyone would do it.”

In part 2 of this post I will discuss the operational implementation and organizational unity in greater detail. Stay tuned!

/Image via Wikimedia Commons

Retail, WiFi Access