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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

Next generation cloud-based Wi-Fi management plane

August 7th, 2013

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In early days of cloud Wi-Fi, incumbents used to say that cloud Wi-Fi was just about moving traditional controller appliances to centralized data centers. As time progressed, it became clear that this was a gross mischaracterization of cloud Wi-Fi. In the first dimension, cloud Wi-Fi would differentiate from traditional architecture by decoupling the data plane from the control plane (also called “local switching”). However, this alone wasn’t adequate since tying the control plane to centralized controllers created an inefficient architecture. Accordingly, the second new dimension consisted in moving the control plane to the edge of the network (also referred to as “smart edge APs”).

There is also a third dimension where “true cloud Wi-Fi differentiates even further from the traditional architecture. This dimension is not easily visible to the end user, though it results in substantial differences in the operation efficiency of the cloud backend. Eventually, these efficiencies pass on to the end user either as cost savings or features. This third dimension is about how the Wi-Fi management plane is implemented in the cloud – this is the topic of this blog.

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Virtualization

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The benefits of virtualization are many and varied. Full virtualization of the Wi-Fi management plane gives greater speed and efficiency in provisioning and re-provisioning the cloud resources. It allows for taking advantage of the rich features of the virtualization OS, which are geared towards better cloud implementations. As a result, fully virtualized cloud backend for the Wi-Fi management is a big step beyond the blades and appliances provisioned at the data center.

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Resource Sharing

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Multi-tenancy is an essential feature of a true cloud management plane. Multi-tenant servers in the cloud can concurrently host sandboxed workspaces for different customers. This provides benefits of sharing the high end computation resources across many customers.

However, there are also other resource sharing benefits that can be achieved in the cloud management plane.

Let’s take the example of disc storage. Virtualized instances can derive benefit from SAN (Storage Area Network) disc arrays as opposed to discs attached to appliances and blades. Apart from being more reliable than appliance based discs, they also allow for use of efficient disc redundancy techniques such as RAID5 (with 3 discs and intelligent parity based redundancy, it causes only 50% storage overhead), compared to RAID1 (which requires 2 discs and does brute force data mirroring with 100% storage overhead) of appliance based systems.

Another example would be that the fully virtualized management plane can be deployed in (N+1) redundant fashion. This is possible because virtual machines can be quickly and automatically moved from any of the N running instances to the standby instance – in the event that any of the N instances were to fail.  With appliance based systems, you are mostly constrained to legacy (1+1) redundancy which increases the overall cost of solution. That being said, virtual instances can also be deployed in (1+1) redundant fashion if so required for specific deployments (N = 1). Because of the way in which AirTight cloud is implemented, it offers a sliding scale of redundancy for customers to choose from; ranging from the best value to the extreme redundancy.

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Horizontal Scalability

 

This is not something that you will get just by virtualization, though virtualization can be leveraged for better horizontal scalability. Horizontal scalability (also called “elastic cloud”) is a concept that is application specific and applications need to be architected to permit it. In the Wi-Fi management context, horizontal scalability could mean seamless expansion of the management resources at the data center to subsume increasing demand in the end user network. This typically happens when deployments grow as more APs are added, and especially when they start overflowing capacity of single server instances. How each vendor handles this is unique to the vendor. In the AirTight cloud, we have our own way of resource pooling to provide horizontal scalability to enable single pane of glass management in AirTight’s HTML5 management console for very large deployments and for managed service providers. We also have elastic analytics engine that can grow horizontally as the data set continues to grow.

 

Multiple Layers of Fault Tolerance

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True cloud Wi-Fi implements multiple layers of fault tolerance. For example, at the AP level, APs need to be able to operate autonomously with no reliance on the management server for traffic forwarding and for offering services such as handoffs, captive portals, firewall, etc. For deployments which also care about security, the AP/Sensor should be able to perform full WIPS functions without reliance on the manager. In the AirTight architecture, we refer to this as “standalone” operation, which ensures that the service at the edge is not disrupted at all – even if the Wi-Fi management server is unreachable. In addition, a resilient service discovery network with geographically replicated databases ensures that the connected edge device will quickly and reliably find its home in the cloud from anywhere. Fault tolerance on the server side is provided via redundancy techniques I’ve already discussed. Additionally, features of a virtualization OS, such as snapshotting are useful to add an additional layer of protection during upgrade processes.

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Good Things in the True Cloud Wi-Fi Management AirTight Cloud ServicesPlane

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These are some things that can only be found in the Wi-Fi management plane that is designed bottom up to be hosted in the cloud. While these things may not be directly visible to the end user, they are important for the cloud operator and also result in indirect benefits to the end user. Simply hauling Wi-Fi management servers to the data centers does not allow for these benefits. So, we now have one more dimension by which to compare true cloud Wi-Fi with traditional architectures – the good things found in the cloud-based management plane!

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#WFD5

 

Want to hear more about this topic?  Tune into Wireless Field 5 (live on August 8th from 8-10 am PT, or watch from the TechFieldDay archives). You can also follow the Twitter discussion with the WFD5 hashtag.

WFD5 tweet from Gestalt IT

 

AirTight Networks to Make its Live Tech Field Day Debut at Wireless Field Day 5 in Silicon Valley

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802.11n, Cloud computing, mobile device management, WiFi Access, WLAN networks , , ,

AirTight Demos on Demand and WFD5

July 31st, 2013

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IDC’s recent IT Buyer Experience Survey reveals that “45% of the buying decision is made before your potential buyer even says “hello” to your sales rep.” and “buyers are more knowledgeable and connected”.

If you’re still in the investigation stage (as suggested by the IDC survey) and not quite ready for a customized personal demo with an AirTight expert, you might want to check out the first three installments in our Demos on Demand series.

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Airtight Demos on Demand

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Demos on Demand serves the communication needs of tech vendors and resellers across vertical industries with its video platform and content library.  Airtight is excited to leverage this innovative platform to present in depth product information to assists buyers by showing what our product is, what it does, and how it does it. 

Sean Blanton, senior systems engineer for the US Western region is featured in the first three installments of our Demos on Demand series.  Sean joined the AirTight team in early 2013.  He’s a Certified Ethical Hacker (C|EH).

As the title of the first video implies, in ”Quick Installation Guide“, Sean begins with a discussion and then goes through a step-by-step walk-through of the Airtight Wi-Fi installation process.  After a brief introduction, he covers the management console and its HTML5 GUI access, and then moves into location and configuration settings.

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quick installation guide image 

Cloud Managed Wi-Fi for the Distributed Enterprise is the second video from the series.  After a brief architectural overview, Sean covers 6 main sections: Location-based Management, Enterprise Wi-Fi, Guest and Social Wi-Fi, Device Templates, Devices, and Wi-Fi Analytics and Reports.

 

cloud managed 

The third video focuses on WIPS (Wireless Intrusion Prevention System). In this video, Sean gives a quick introduction in which he touches on: WIPS Overview, Information about Wireless Threats, and AirTight Marker Packet™ Techniques. This introduction is followed by an AirTight WIPS demonstration.


WIPS

 

Once you’ve gone through these 3 videos, if you still have questions and want to know more, feel free to sign up for a customized personal demo with an AirTight expert.

If you have comments on how we can make these videos better, please don’t hesitate to pass along your suggestions.  We’re in the process of  recording other videos and can incorporate your feedback to make them even better.

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Wireless Field Day 5

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While we’re on the subject of demos, on August 8th between 8 and 10 am PT, you can watch Airtight present from Wireless Field Day 5 on this page

Sean Blanton will be joined by  Pravin Bhagwat – CTO, Hemant Chaskar - VP Technology and Innovation, Anthony Paladino – VP Global Technical Services, Kaustubh Phanse – Chief Evangelist, and David King – CEO.  Be sure to tune in for an opportunity at some techie giveaways. Follow @Airtight and the WFD5 delegates on Twitter as we’re talking SMAC from WFD5.

You might want to check out the following blog articles that were recently published as a lead up to WFD5:

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Not only are we pumped about next week’s event, we’re already planning for the next one!  In case you can’t make it on August 8th, you’ll be able to find Airtight in the WFD5 archives.

 

Additional Information:

802.11n, mobile device management, WiFi Access, Wireless security, WLAN networks , , , , ,

Retail Survival: Enabling the Consumer

July 30th, 2013

The age of the empowered consumer is upon us. According to a recent Harvard Business Review article called Mobile Shopping’s Data Goldmine, some 44% of shoppers use their smartphones while they’re shopping; more than a third of them are comparing prices. The impact of mobile research can be profound, affecting the buying behavior of nearly 90% of mobile shoppers,” according to the HBR article.

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HBR Blog Network _ Mobile Shopping's Data Goldmine

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Customer empowerment is extending beyond mobile as consumers become comfortable interacting with retail companies through any channel available, including ecommerce, online, kiosk, voice, webchat, and more. The question is how aggressively retailers are moving to enable this new reality for the customer.

 

As the following short (and funny) video below shows, shoppers want to take a lot more into their own hands.

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she's in your stuff

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How to Respond?

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The video shows a future that is frightening to many retailers, but it needn’t be. Leading retailers are taking a number of steps now to get in front of this approaching tidal wave.

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1) Optimize in-store shopping 

 

Accenture Seamless Retail Study

Accenture Seamless Retail Study

Rather than fear consumer empowerment, retailers should embrace it. In a survey of 6,000 consumers polled across eight countries (US, UK, Germany, Sweden, France, Brazil, China and Japan), Accenture found that the majority of respondents believe that integrating in-store, online and mobile is the number one thing that retailers can do to improve the shopping experience. An IBM study found that, contrary to expected concerns about loss of privacy, “the majority of shoppers were willing to contribute 20 minutes on average to help a retailer better understand their desires in order to provide them with more meaningful offers based on their past purchases.”

By encouraging in-store customers to use their own devices to join a social Wi-Fi portal, retailers can further bridge the gap between the physical and online space.  They can raise awareness about their mobile app and loyalty program.  Stores can deliver personalized offers tailored to specific interests or particular profiles, allow for social sharing and feedback, as well as collect profile information and user analytics (ideally after opt-in).

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2) Create a “Wow” Store Experience

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As consumers increasingly use technology to find the products and services they want at the price they want, what’s the value of the store? Certainly not for inventory lookup and ordering when shoppers can do this themselves. And no longer for immediate gratification as Amazon and other ecommerce sites neutralize this physical store advantage by partnering with same-day delivery services.

Create a “Wow” Store ExperienceThe purpose of the store will evolve to provide an exciting, rich physical experience. Consider a new flagship AT&T store in NY where the “experience” of shopping for mobile or network technologies is being transformed and includes:

    • 130 digital screens
    • The Explorer Lounge to play and learn about apps that interest them.
    • The App Bar where “app-tenders” serve up one-on-one or group demos, which are also displayed on multiple video monitors on the Apps Wall.
    • An 18-foot-high Connect Wall that shows interactive content and product information visible to the entire store and passers-by.
    • Products, apps and accessories organized by needs in the Lifestyle Boutiques, including Get Fit, Be Productive, Share Your Life and Chicagoland.

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3) Empower Frontline Sales

 

You don’t want your sales associates to have less power or knowledge than your customers. But in many stores customers are outfitted with the latest mobile devices, while sales staff has no electronic equipment beyond the register. If equipped with smartphones and tablets and targeted apps, however, sales associates can demonstrate how products work or immerse customers in interactive mobile environments.   The approach can be as simple as training staff to guide customers through existing tools.

At Burberry stores, some 20% of Burberry’s total sales are on iPads, and half of these are from staff iPads in store, according to the Harvard Business Review article mentioned earlier. The article also noted that “by engaging in activities like these, salespeople shift into the role of helping customers rather than simply selling to them.”

AT&T is also having success at its New York City store by arming its salespeople. The retailer rolled out a mobile POS system that has changed AT&T’s concept of retail, expanding the store’s capacity during busy times. Using tablets added efficiency and promoted interaction, creating transparent, friendly, knowledgeable experiences. According to Paul Roth, president of AT&T retail sales and service.

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“They just like us more when we use a tablet. This changed the way we do business.”

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Additional Information:

Evaluating a Wi-Fi Solutions Provider? Make Sure They Talk SMAC

Evaluating a Wi-Fi Solutions Provider? Make Sure They Talk SMAC

Mobile Shopping’s Data Goldmine via Harvard Business Review

Accenture Seamless Retail Study

IBM Retail Study

Evaluating a Wi-Fi Solutions Provider? Make Sure They Talk SMAC

Sometimes you gotta talk some SMAC!   by Geoffrey Moore @geoffreymoore

AirTight Social Solution Brief

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Another Controller-less Wi-Fi Solution by Matthew Norwood @matthewnorwood

The ‘New’ Enterprise WLAN Vendor by Lee H Badman @WiredNot

Product Review: AirTight Networks Wi-Fi by Craig Mathias via @NetworkWorld

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AirTight Networks expands cloud-Wi-Fi product line

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Catch @AirTight at Wireless Field Day 5, August 8th from 8 to 10 am PT (live) or via #WFD5 video archive

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802.11n, Best practices, mobile device management, PCI, smartphones, WiFi Access, WLAN networks , , , , , , ,

Controller Wi-Fi, controller-less Wi-Fi, cloud Wi-Fi: What does it mean to the end user?

July 17th, 2013

A New Twist on Wi-Fi

Wi-Fi architectures today come in three main flavors: controllers, controller-less and cloud. While vendors spar over which is the right architecture for today’s and tomorrow’s Wi-Fi, customers are mostly interested in comparing them based on their derived value.

In this blog post, we examine the economics, manageability and ease of deployment of these 3 architecture flavors. On these fronts, I have often seen the following 8 points to be most relevant to customers while making architecture choice for their Wi-Fi project. 

In the following discussion, I use the term controller to indicate an architecture which uses a tunneled or locally switched data plane, but where the control plan is driven wholly or partially from the controller. Controller-less architecture is smart-edge architecture where the control plane resides at the edge. Cloud is controller-less, and in addition, provides manageability from a console hosted in the cloud.  

 

1)      Equipment required on customer premises

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APs always need to be deployed onsite.

In a controller architecture (with or without local switching), it is also necessary to deploy controller appliances on customer premises. In addition, for central manageability of large networks, a manager appliance overseeing the controllers is required to be deployed on customer premises.

In a controller-less architecture (without cloud option), APs are either smart-edge or they include partial controller functionality in them. However, for central manageability, a manager appliance is still required to be installed on customer premises. Even when the manager is provided as virtual server, it still consumes server farm resources on the customer premises.

In contrast to the other two, a true cloud architecture is not only controller-less, but also provides manager in the cloud. It thus  requires the least equipment to be installed on customer premises (only APs need to be onsite).

 

2)      Operational overheads for customer

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Any equipment customers have to deploy on their premises and in their networks adds to operational overheads. These include ensuring redundancy (redundancy also means double the equipment purchase), backup processes, patch and upgrade management, and rack space management. By delegating as many functions to the cloud as possible, such operational overheads can be eliminated.

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3)      Suitability for distributed networks

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The controller architecture model was designed with localized campus deployment in mind. For distributed networks as in retail and branch office networks, it is not practical to deploy a controller for each site. It is also not efficient to operate a “controller over WAN” link even with local switching, because the control plane going back to controllers is subject to the WAN link performance which in turn impacts services at the edge.

Distributed architectures also require comprehensive centralized monitoring, so controller-less alone is not adequate. Cloud architectures are best suited for distributed networks as they are controller-less and also provide comprehensive management console in the cloud.

True cloud Wi-Fi solutions such as the one provided by AirTight are consciously designed to decouple services at the edge from dependency on the manager so that services at the edge run uninterrupted even if cloud manager is not reachable from APs.

 

4)      Configuration and management paradigm

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The overall configuration and management workflow of controller Wi-Fi is traditionally tied to boxes and appliances, whereas cloud Wi-Fi allows managing your network on logical and business paradigms. Cloud can provide powerful features of web interfaces such as HTML5 for advanced configuration and management interfaces.

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5)      Pricing

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Controller architectures are priced on traditional models involving upfront capital expenses, and licensing and maintenance costs. Even some controller-less products follow similar pricing models. Cloud offerings on the other hand offer more flexibility and economy in overall solution cost because of the flexibility levers of capital expenses and cloud subscription. Customers often find cloud pricing models more affordable.

 

6)      Network growth

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Controller Wi-Fi requires planning ahead for network expansion or requires purchasing additional controller equipment and licenses as the network grows. This is great for the vendor but not so much for the end-user.  Some controller-less offerings may also require planning for central manager capacity either upfront or purchasing additional capacity in discrete consignments as the network grows.

Cloud on the other hand does not require any manager side capacity pre-planning and you can grow requirements organically without incurring inefficiencies of unused capacity. True cloud Wi-Fi consoles such as AirTight’s are also designed to be horizontally scalable allowing virtually an unlimited number of devices to be managed from a single pane of glass.

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7)      Multi-tenancy

 

Cloud Wi-Fi can leverage multi-tenancy for compute, memory and disc resources at the data center. This provides economies and efficiencies of resource sharing at the data center thereby making the overall offering more attractively priced.

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8)      Value added services

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Cloud Wi-Fi enables the deployment of value added services on Wi-Fi, which are also hosted in the cloud. Examples are social channel integration, integration with analytics applications, advanced guest managers etc. The value added services can be vendor provided or provided by third parties.

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Controller Wi-Fi, controller-less Wi-Fi, cloud Wi-Fi

Additional Information:

A New Twist on Wi-Fi

Secure Cloud Wi-Fi for the Distributed Enterprise

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Catch AirTight at Wireless Field Day 5 | August 7-9 2013

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Best practices, mobile device management, WiFi Access, WLAN networks

Evaluating a Wi-Fi Solutions Provider? Make Sure They Talk SMAC

July 15th, 2013

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Applying the Social, Mobile, Analytics and Cloud (SMAC) model to your Retail Wi-Fi Investment

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Figure 1: Gartner Nexus of Forces is the convergence of social, mobile, information (analytics), and cloud to transform business and IT.

Figure 1: Gartner Nexus of Forces is the convergence of social, mobile, information (analytics), and cloud to transform business and IT.

Social, mobile, analytics and cloud (SMAC) technologies are high on everyone’s investment priorities list—so much so that SMAC has become the new enterprise IT model. Research firm Gartner refers to the trend as the Nexus of Forces, a convergence of technologies that is building upon and transforming consumer behavior and ushering in the next-generation of business technology.

 

“Although these forces are innovative and disruptive on their own, together they are revolutionizing business and society, disrupting old business models and creating new leaders,” says Gartner. Therefore, the SMAC model calls for evaluating individual technology investments by how well it helps you integrate social, mobile, analytics and cloud services to transform your enterprise.

 

According to RIS’s Store Systems Study 2013, retailers highest investment priority is mobile, and rightfully so. A lynchpin technology for enabling mobility in brick-and-mortar retail is Wi-Fi.

 

Does your Wi-Fi solution provider pass the SMAC test?

 

Here’s a few things to look for when evaluating Wi-Fi for large, distributed retail environments:

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Social Integration

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Social is a major driver of SMAC. It was largely people’s desire to socially interact with friends and family on the go that drove the rapid adoption of smart devices, so make sure social is integrated into your Wi-Fi solution. Social integration allows customers to login to your guest Wi-Fi via their Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or Google+ account, making it super easy and far more likely.

Retailers not only gain a mechanism for rapidly growing their followers and fan base with high-value users—those consumers who have already visited their store—but can now put a name to what was otherwise an anonymous shopper. Armed with this information, retailers can integrate an individual’s in-store shopping experience with her online habits and customer loyalty programs to send highly personalized and relevant, location-based offers, coupons or other information directly to her mobile device. The customer, in turn, can opt to share that information and positive brand experience with her own social network of friends and family. And the cycle continues.

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Omnichannel Technologies to Maximize Holiday Sales and Profits | webinar via @RISnewsinsights

Date: Thursday, July 18, 2013 | 2:00 pm ET |  1 hour  (archive version will be available)

Moderator: Joe Skorupa, Editor-in-Chief, RIS News

Panelists: Robert Fort, Former CIO of Wet Seal and Kevin S. McCauley, Director, Retail Market Development, AirTight Networks

 

Secure Mobile

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8 Steps to Secure Retail Wi-Fi | AirTight INFOGRAPHIC

8 Steps to Secure Retail Wi-Fi | AirTight INFOGRAPHIC

You may be inclined to think that any Wi-Fi solution would meet the “M” for mobile SMAC requirement. However, in retail environments where payment information is exchanged over the network, secure mobile with a capital “S” is of paramount importance. As you investigate WLAN vendors, make sure they have a complete solution for PCI-DSS compliance and reporting. For large, distributed environments, security should be automated and simple to deploy, manage and maintain with little or no local IT support. Look for features such as automated scanning for detection of rogue devices or “man in the middle” attacks, and automated preventative measures and actions for immediately eliminating the threat.

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Even environments that don’t yet offer guest Wi-Fi access should have a solution in place for dealing with bad guys who may be out to scam your customers and possibly harm your reputation. Therefore, look for solution providers who can offer you wired and wireless intrusion prevention that can evolve and scale to provide you with the access you’ll need when you’re ready.

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Is Your Wireless Safe? |by  Airtight CTO Pravin Bhagwat via @QSRmagazine

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Analytics

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Customer analytics provides valuable business intelligence to increase customer loyalty, engagement and revenue. However, because customer data comes from a large and growing variety of sources—through social interactions, loyalty programs, POS systems, online browsing history and in-store real-time browsing—no where is SMAC integration more important.

 

AirTight Social Wi-Fi Solution Brief

 

A good Wi-Fi analytics report should provide real-time and historical trends such as number of Wi-Fi user devices present in or near the store, type of device, where they are located, how long they linger, and at what time of day. It should also provide information on repeat visitors of specific stores and groups of stores. When integrated with social media, analytics become far more powerful and personalized, providing not only the identity of mobile in-store shoppers, but information such as “likes” and interests to help push highly targeted and relevant offers and information to your customers.

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Cloud

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Not all cloud-based Wi-Fi solutions are equal.  Look for a controller-less architecture that is purpose-built for large, distributed enterprises. Things to watch for:

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  • Scalability and multi-tenant support

Controller Wi-Fi, controller-less Wi-Fi, cloud Wi-FiThe solution should be able to scale to tens of thousands of locations or devices. A hierarchical location-based architecture should enable multi-tenancy (the ability to separate accounts, configurations and data) within a single customer account (e.g., corporate vs. franchisee, or across multiple brands)

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  • Reliability

Your vendor’s globally distributed data center environment should offer four nines (99.99%) uptime and local and WAN-based high availability and redundancy. While managed via the cloud, all of your access points and sensors should be able to operate even when connectivity to the cloud is lost.

 

Airtight will be talking SMAC at #WFD5 | August 7-9 2013

Airtight will be talking SMAC at #WFD5 | August 7-9 2013

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  • Location-aware centralized management

Web-based management should be simple and intuitive, and provide administrators with access and reporting based on their role and the locations that they manage.

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  • Zero-touch provisioning

Solutions should be plug and play, requiring no IT staff at remote locations. Access points and sensors should be automatically discoverable and configured when connected to the cloud.

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Focus on the Customer Experience

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At the heart of the SMAC model is relentless attention to the customer experienceRetailers are strategically deploying SMAC across key business processes and technology deployments, combining the best of virtual and physical retail shopping to create data-rich, personalized channel-agnostic customer experiences.

At the heart of the SMAC model is relentless attention to the customer experience.

By focusing on the way customers like to shop and consume information, and enabling those experiences with technologies such as in-store Wi-Fi with integrated social, mobile, analytics and cloud services, forward-thinking companies will continue to compete in this rapidly changing digital world.

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 According to the recent IBM study, From Transactions to Relationships: connecting with a transitioning shopper, what consumers want is a personalized in-store experience that not only mirrors the experience they get with online shopping, but is seamlessly integrated with their on- and offline shopping habits, preferences and history.

Dr.Nadia Shouraboura talks about how online and offline retail can come together to create the perfect shopping experience. 

Additional Information:

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Webinars:

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Best practices, mobile device management, PCI, WiFi Access, Wireless security, WLAN networks, WLAN planning , , , , ,

802.11ac (Wave-1): MORE Network Engineering Insights

June 24th, 2013

802.11ac more engineering insightsIn my previous blog on the 11ac series, I explored 80 MHz channel operation in 802.11ac in the context of data rate, OBSS (Overlapping BSS), network throughput, and auto-channel assignment.

802.11ac (Wave-1): Network Engineering Insights

In the present post, I explore the other speed factor of 1.33X that shows up in the Wave-1 data rate equation: (2.16 x 1 x 1.33) x 450 Mbps of 802.11n rate = 1.3 Gbps. This 1.33X factor is attributed to the new modulation technique called 256-QAM introduced in 802.11ac (802.11n had only upto 64-QAM). Consistent with the theme of this blog series that the data rate equation does not bring out critical network engineering aspects, this post explores 256-QAM from the enterprise network design perspective.

 

256-QAM causes step function change in data rate near the AP

 

There are two newly added MCS’s (Modulation & Coding Scheme) in 802.11ac.  They result in respective data rate increase factors of 1.21 and 1.33, over the highest possible data rate in 802.11n for a given channel bandwidth and number of spatial streams.

These two newly added MCS’s use the 256-QAM scheme, which requires about 5 to 7 dB higher SNR (which is a lot given that dB is logarithmic scale) compared to the least SNR at which the best MCS in 802.11n (64-QAM, R 5/6) can work with.

As a result, the 256-QAM can only be used close to the AP. From the network engineering standpoint, the key point to note is that 256-QAM to 64-QAM is step function change, that is, as you move away from the AP, the data rate drops in step function from 256-QAM rate to legacy 64-QAM rate.

This observation is important to quantify cell-wide benefit of 256-QAM.

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256-QAM is a step function change in data rate

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What is the cell-wide impact of 256-QAM?

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In enterprise deployments, clients are distributed throughout the cell. In a sense, this is different from the home networking environment where many clients can be close to the AP. A well-known principle in 802.11 is airtime un-fairness, which means clients away from the AP consume more airtime due to their lower speed compared to those closer to it. By now, you probably can guess what I am getting at.

For illustrative purposes, consider four clients (let us call them C1, C2, C3, C4) at four distances from the AP, respectively, and having data rates (assuming 40 MHz channels and 2 antennas on clients) as follows:

  • C1 @ 360 Mbps (256-QAM rate with 1.33X data rate increase),
  • C2 @ 270 Mbps (maximum 64-QAM rate),
  • C3 @ 216 Mbps (another 64-QAM rate), and
  • C4 @ 108 Mbps (16-QAM rate).

I will compare this situation with the corresponding 802.11n data rates (no 256-QAM) at the same distances for the same clients:

  • C1 @ 270 Mbps (maximum 64-QAM rate),
  • C2 @ 270 Mbps (maximum 64-QAM rate),
  • C3@ 216 Mbps (another 64-QAM rate), and
  • C4 @ 108 Mbps (16-QAM rate).

Below is the diagram depicting total airtime saved due to the use of 256-QAM for clients close to the AP in the above example. Here, I have avoided using lower rates like 54 Mbps and 27 Mbps (which are for the QPSK and BPSK modulation schemes) for clients further away from the AP to favor 256-QAM. The saving in airtime will be distributed to the clients in proportions of their data rates.

 

256-QAM airtime distribution _ with_wihtout

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The above example shows about 4% saving in total airtime for the cell when the client close to the AP can use 256-QAM.. Also a point to note here is that actual numbers of data rates and clients are not important and that relative proportions are important. You get the same saving number for the same relative proportions of the data rates.

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More clients away than close (Area = Pi * Square of radius effect)

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The area of coverage of the cell is proportional to square of distance from the AP (middle-school formula for the area of the circle).

So in reality, there are usually more clients away from the AP than as many close to the AP. This type of client distribution requires computation of weighted proportions of airtime consumption rather than simple proportions as I did above. With weighted proportions, the savings in total airtime due to the use of 256-QAM close to the AP are below 5%.

For example, with one C1-type client, two C2-type clients, three C3-type clients and four C4-type clients, the total airtime saving because of C1 being able to use 256-QAM comes out to be 1.5%.

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Airtime fairness feature on AP

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APs support airtime fairness feature which tries to prevent higher airtime usage by clients operating at lower data rates. Suppose the fairness feature is configured to equalize the airtime consumption across clients. Then, in the computation above (with simple proportions), without 256-QAM, airtime would have been equalized as 25% each for each of the four clients. When 256-QAM is used, only one of the 25% slices (representing client closest to the AP) see airtime reduction of about 25% (due to 1.33X data rate).

So when normalized over the entire cell, with equal airtime fairness implemented on the AP, the total airtime saving due to the use of 256-QAM near the AP, comes to about 6.25%.  As discussed earlier, in general there will be more clients away from the AP than those close to the AP. With weighted proportions computation as above, the total airtime savings is about 2.5%.

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New radio implementations

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As we can see from the previous examples, raising data rates of only those client that are close to the AP (like what 256-QAM does), results in relatively small total airtime savings (this reminds me of an analogy from popular rhetoric: “what does it mean to the society if the rich become richer”).From the network engineering perspective, the clients that are away from the AP need more help. One hope is that 802.11ac clients may have better radio implementation than the 802.11n clients. This may enable the 802.11ac client at a given distance to achieve better SNR than the 802.11n client at the same distance. Introduction of low density parity check (LDPC) codes introduced in 802.11ac could also help a bit there, but that alone does not seem to be adequate. However, whether the net SNR boost will be adequate enough to raise the client at least one level up in the data rate (i.e., one layer up in MCS), remains to be seen until real life test results are out.

Overall, we see that 256-QAM shows juicy 1.33X gain factor in the Wave-1 data rate equation. However, from the perspective of cell-wide impact, the airtime savings can be much lower. There needs to be a way to raise data rates of all the clients, particularly of those away from the AP, in order to achieve attractive airtime saving (and hence capacity and throughput gain for the cell). In that regards, 256-QAM seems to be better geared towards home networking than enterprise networking.

weigh your 11ac options via engineering insightsFor enterprise networking, we may have to rely on radio implementation improvements due to hardware and processing techniques enhancements over time, to be able to obtain blanket data rate increase over the cell. Alternatively, one can plan coverage of .11ac cells to raise the minimum data rate at the edge of the cell, but it has cost and co-channel interference considerations.

These network engineering insights are appreciated only if you think outside of the isolated data rate equation!

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Addition Information:

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802.11ac, 802.11n, Best practices, mobile device management, WiFi Access, WLAN networks, WLAN planning

How to implement BYOD with Wi-Fi / WIPS assist

June 18th, 2013

BYOD Bring Your Own Device

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Wi-Fi has become the de facto access medium for smart mobile devices in enterprise networks. Sitting at the edge of the network, Wi-Fi can assist greatly in implementing secure and disciplined BYOD in these networks.

There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to BYOD management in the enterprise. However, from my experiences working with Wi-Fi and WIPS deployments, I have seen certain features that are particularly useful for organizations in implementing BYOD. This blog post explores some of these in greater detail. |

 

1)      Monitor new devices entering Wi-Fi

 

Monitoring for new smart devices entering the network is a first and important step in the implementation of disciplined BYOD. Wireless clients connecting to Wi-Fi are fingerprinted using packet level and protocol level characteristics to identify smart mobile devices.

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WPA2 alone is not sufficient to stop personal devices from entering the protected Wi-Fi network.

|Monitor new devices entering Wi-Fi

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2)      Enforce pre-configured policies on new devices entering Wi-Fi

 

Once a new smart mobile device is detected in the Wi-Fi network, different types of pre-configured policies can be automatically implemented. For example, one policy would be to block or limit access to new smart devices pending authorization. The Wi-Fi/WIPS solution can facilitate such policy enforcement by blocking new devices from accessing the secure network or provide them only limited access (e.g., access to only Guest SSID) until they are approved by IT administrator. |

Devices pending review |

3)      Automated approval/onboarding of new devices on secure Wi-Fi

 

Using mobile apps provided by Wi-Fi/WIPS vendor:  With the rising volume of new devices entering the network, manual approval and inventory may prove to be cumbersome. Using onboarding apps provided by the Wi-Fi/WIPS vendor, this process can be automated. New smart mobile devices are redirected to a portal and upon installation of the onboarding app, devices are allowed to enter the protected Wi-Fi. The onboarding app facilitates automated inventory and tracking for smart devices after they are admitted into the secure network. This app can also automatically configure secure WPA2 settings on the device without administrator intervention.

| Onboarding with AirTight Mobile app

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Using third party MDM agents: Many organizations deploy specialized MDM (Mobile Device Management) systems to manage smart mobile devices accessing corporate assets. Several MDM systems choices are available in the market. So, BYOD onboarding workflow in a Wi-Fi solution that facilitates device onboarding with third party MDM agents is useful. With this workflow, new devices attempting to connect the network without hosting the MDM agent prescribed by IT are detected and redirected to install the MDM agent. Upon installing the MDM agent, they are allowed to enter the protected Wi-Fi. A point to note here is that MDM alone does not complete the BYOD story, combination of MDM and Wi-Fi gatekeeping is what is required. This is because MDM can control only managed devices, but Wi-Fi/WIPS gatekeeping detects unmanaged devices and helps bring them under MDM control. Airtight Wi-Fi provides API to implement this workflow using third party MDM agents.

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4)      Wireless security for the admitted devices

 

Once admitted into the network, the mobile devices need to be afforded strong protection from vulnerable wireless connections and wireless attacks including rogue APs, tethering, personal hotspots, Wi-Phishing, client connections to neighborhood APs, ad hoc connections, etc.  With BYOD, the sheer volume of wireless endpoints seen in the wireless environment is expected to triple or quadruple over next 2-3 years. As a result, fully automated strong WIPS, free from false alarms and not requiring excessive configuration and signature maintenance is needed to be the part of the Wi-Fi solution in order to implement truly secure BYOD. |

As we can see, enterprises can take advantage of many Wi-Fi and WIPS features to implement secure and disciplined BYOD in their networks. These features range from identifying new smart devices entering the network to assist in smooth onboarding of the new devices to securing the new devices once they are admitted into the secure Wi-Fi networks. So don’t get stressed by BYOD, there are Wi-Fi and WIPS to assist you.

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Additional Information:

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802.11ac, 802.11n, Best practices, BYOD, mobile device management, smartphones, WiFi Access, WLAN networks, WLAN planning

Fast Forward: The New Personalized In-Store Shopping Experience

June 11th, 2013

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How Retailers Can Reinvigorate Brick-and-Mortar

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Fast Forward: How Leading Retailers Can Reinvigorate Bricks-and-MortarMany brick-and-mortar retailers have used data analytics from their online sites to create in-depth customer portraits based on geography, demographics, interests and shopping habits.  But when the customer enters their physical store, suddenly the store is largely blind, unable to connect the wealth of online data to the customer walking in their store.

Perhaps this is why brick-and-mortar retailers are being hammered by online-only retailers who know so much about their customers. A recent Forrester report predicts online sales will reach $262 billion by the end of 2013, a 13 percent rise from $231 billion in 2012, while retail store sales have limped along at just under three percent growth.

A recent IBM study finds one of the real threats to brick-and-mortar is decreasing customer loyalty in a world rich with choices, literally at the consumers’ fingertips. Other studies show that a clear majority of retailers agree that customers want to use multiple channels (or omnichannel) to interact with stores and that customers who do so tend to buy more.

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So how can retailers make the physical instore experience more enjoyable and desirable for the customer?

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Discount Today on those Vijoss Jeans You Love

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New instore Wi-Fi presence analytics capabilities tied into smartphones, other omnichannel functionality, and a customer data warehouse show promise of transforming this dynamic to create a more customized, personalized and basket-rich in-store experience. These new personalized analytics transcend basic anonymous Wi-Fi analytics — the % of people who look at a window display and actually enter the store, or the number of people visiting the store at certain hours to help set staffing levels. Rather, they understand who the customer is and their  interests and preferences as soon as they enter the store.

Here’s how this might work:  a regular customer of a clothes retailer, who has also purchased from the store’s ecommerce site, walks into the retailer’s physical store. As she does, a screen pops up on her smartphone asking if she’d like to access the Internet using the store’s Wi-Fi.  The screen, a social access portal, can be custom designed by the retailer using the store’s branded colors and images. She only needs to ‘opt-in’ once. After that, each time she visits the store it automatically recognizes her and provides access.

Opt-In Social EngagementBeyond providing the customer with access to the Internet and to the retailer’s website, this opt-in also opens up a new world of capabilities for the retailer.

From online data gathered from its ecommerce site, the clothes retailer knows that this woman is 32 and that she loves “urban clothing.” It knows her size and color preferences. She has viewed and bought numerous items from leading brands such as Vigoss and Frenchi and has also left items in her basket (perhaps she had wanted to try on the items?), and put certain urban clothing type items on her wish list.

Currently, the store has a special on Vigoss Colored Skinny Jeans. So as she enters the store (and once she has opted in), a pop up appears on her Smartphone alerting her to the special. (Or it could display  the Flap Pocket Skinny Crop Jeans she had abandoned in her online basket.) She’s interested in the Vigoss jeans and the app creates a map directing her to the item. It also suggests other accessories to the jeans, including shoes and tops.

Once the customer decides to purchase, she has the option to scan the items with her Smartphone, the items are debited to her account, she places them in a store-branded bag nearby, and leaves – walking by the typically understaffed checkout counters with lines at most clothes retailers.

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Personalization Combined with Location and Weather

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Combining customer preferences with location information and a daily updating data point such as weather can open up new opportunities for personalization through smartphones. For example, Starbucks could incorporate a weather feed to their mobile strategy, and dynamically shift a promotion from a hot drink to a cold drink as the temperature rises in a particular location.

Hot Strawberry Toaster Pastry with frosting and sprinkles|

Walmart discovered that, by analyzing its vast data warehouse of daily customer interactions, it uncovered gems of insights that drive its merchandising decisions. Doug Stephens, known as the “Retail Prophet,” noted recently in a recent radio interview on CBC’s Fresh Airthat the giant retailer had discovered that in some hurricane-prone states people would stock up on a particular item – Pop Tarts — prior to a hurricane. So Wal-Mart would physically re-arrange its stores in response to changing weather conditions, ensuring that the Pop Tarts were in prominent, easy to get to locations within these stores, driving up sales.

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Or on those days when a downpour strikes a city like NY or Chicago, a well-timed promotion on umbrellas or rain gear that catches commuters or visitors or residents within a block of a store could quickly translate into increased sales.

 

The power of a LIKE | Social ReferencingBeating Back Showrooming

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While showrooming has become a growing threat to many retailers, studies such as IBM’s  From Transactions to Relationships show that shoppers are willing to purchase from and be loyal to a retailer’s storefront and online site if the retailer pays attention to the shopper’s desires. The report states:

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“Eighty-nine percent of shoppers in our study were willing to contribute 20 minutes on average to help a retailer better understand their desires and provide them with more meaningful offers. Fifty-five percent of shoppers expect the retailer to use past purchases in order to offer relevant promotions.”

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The message is clear: by creating a highly personalized in-store experience, combined with a connected online capability, retailers can surround the customer with a more complete and satisfying shopping experience – and create much greater loyalty and increased sales.

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Additional Information:

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Retail Infographic

Retail Infographic

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Listen to the ebook

 

AirTight Solution Briefs

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mobile device management, PCI, smartphones, WiFi Access , , ,

Don’t deploy 802.11ac without thorough RF planning

May 29th, 2013

Wi-Fi RF Planning has never been trivial

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AirTight Planner : the solution to all your RF planning questionsTraditionally, anyone contemplating Wi-Fi deployment has always faced questions like:

  • How many access points?
  • Where do I install them?
  • What channels should they operate on?
  • Will the deployment meet my coverage and capacity objectives?
  • What will be my security exposure?  and so on.

Due to the myriad of issues that need to be addressed while making these determinations, manual processes and rules of thumb have always been cumbersome and/or imprecise, particularly for Wi-Fi deployments with large footprints.

 

802.11ac will only exacerbate RF planning challenges

 

802.11ac adds more elaborate channeling structure and new techniques to raise wireless data rates. 802.11ac is slated to arrive in two Waves – Wave-1 this year and Wave-2 next year. While the decibel level in the market is raised to prematurely hasten the 802.11ac upgrade cycle, the reality is that this is just the beginning of Wave-1. Many people may not see justification to jump on Wave-1 due to a myriad of practical, network engineering, and interoperability issues that Wave-1 faces. Also important is the fact that Wave-1 lacks the complete feature set of  802.11ac and new radios will be required when Wave-2 hits with those features. All this points to Wave-2 next year to be realistic timeline for large scale network upgrade to 802.11ac.

In any case, increased complexity of channelization and MAC in 802.11ac will result in increased complexity of RF planning over and above 802.11n. Improperly planned networks can result in undesirable side effects such as co-channel interference and slow talkers, which can take away the advantages that the new 802.11ac features have to offer. Also, the 802.11ac network will be expected to deliver higher capacity and increased reliability than the incumbent.  As a result, it is only natural that concrete benchmarking with what-if analyses will have to be done prior to investing in the network upgrade. The cost of 802.11ac APs will also be higher - at least in the beginning.  Accordingly, overprovisioning is undesirable.

 

Past experience has proven the value of scientific RF planning software

 

In order to answer difficult questions during Wi-Fi deployments in a quick, cost-effective, and accurate manner; and to facilitate easy what-if analysis, scientific RF planning software such as AirTight Planner have always proven to be useful. AirTight Planner imports CAD drawings of the facility with embedded material characteristics in them or can also  import floor images which can be annotated with building characteristics.

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AirTight Wi-Fi Planner

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View Airtight Planner data sheet

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AirTight Planner allows you to drag and drop devices and quickly visualize your RF coverage

AirTight Planner allows you to drag and drop devices and quickly visualize your RF coverage

It then formulates RF propagation models for the facility using “ray tracing algorithms” (it does not draw primitive geometric circles like I have seen with some non-scientific planning tools). The software also takes coverage, capacity, and redundancy requirements as input. It then automatically computes BOM, AP placement and channel allocation to meet the desired criteria. AirTight Planner is great for planning AirTight secure Wi-Fi – to meet both Wi-Fi access and WIPS security objectives. In particular, when combined with band unlocked, software defined APs, it attains additional BOM efficiency and design flexibility. AirTight Networks also provides an RF planning service whereby customers simply hand over their floor plans (CAD or images) to our RF experts.  They will in turn design the network for the customer using AirTight Planner.

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Due to its ease of use and accuracy, many Wi-Fi system integrators and VARs use AirTight Planner to plan networks based on even the third party APs. My best memory here is when we worked with a university in the past wanting to upgrade to 802.11n which was quoted 600 Cisco APs (not sure if it was thumb rule or stuffing rule that was used to arrive at that number), but they were not told where to deploy them. They sought AirTight planning service and our RF experts told them that 450 APs were more than adequate to meet their objectives. Startled by this affirmation, they challenged: “If after deployment, it is found that more than 450 are required, AirTight will pick up the cost of the additional 150 APs“. We took the bet. Needless to say, their network is now rolling with 450 APs at significantly lower cost than originally quoted.

Having delivered great value to customers over the past several years in symplifying their 802.11n Wi-Fi network planning, I expect AirTight Planner to deliver even more value when the real  802.11ac network upgrades begin with Wave-2!

 

How you can benefit from AirTight Planner:

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If you are responsible for planning and deployment of Wi-Fi  in your organization,  you can :

    • Do it yourself with this easy to use software, or
    • Use AirTight Planning Service where our RF experts work with you to plan Wi-Fi deployments

If you are a distributor of Wi-Fi equipment, use our software to provide value added service to your customers.

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Addition Information:

AirTight Planner

AirTight Planning Services

Airtight Planner data sheet

View a sample AirTight Planner report

BOM Math for Secure Wi-Fi Deployments

Wi-Fi networks in 5 GHz:  a few observations

 

802.11ac, 802.11n, Best practices, mobile device management, WiFi Access, Wireless security, WLAN planning