Wi-Fi technology is rapidly evolving to provide much more than just simple connectivity services. The ability to capture information both on network performance and about the devices using it is enabling a raft of value added services to be developed.
These services not only help boost the return on investment business case of deploying a Wi-Fi network, but also enable organisations to improve their own performance, and crucially, allow them to offer new services to their customers.
It was with this evolution in mind that Aerohive recently launched its new Connected Experience platform. The platform provides new Cloud networking services, personal device access capabilities, and an application platform designed to make it easier for enterprises to manage their network and devices, as well as providing a means to offer these new value added services.
Paul Hennin, international director of marketing at Aerohive Networks, tells Wireless: ‘We are seeing increasing demand for mobility and because of that wireless technology is replacing Ethernet as the primary access layer.
‘The trend in mid to large enterprises is to evaluate the latest technology and see how they can use it to meet the demands of their staff and customers. They are looking for a mobility opportunity beyond just connectivity and for the ability to explore the potential of getting greater insight into their own organisations.’
Connected Experience platform
Hennin explains that Aerohive has spent a considerable amount of time re-architecting its cloud offering to enable it to offer the suite of technology services provided by the Connected Experience platform.
‘One thing we did specifically was to enable the application layer APIs to provide organisations with the ability to look further into what is going on within their own organisations and those of their customers,’ he says.
The Connected Experience platform includes a new release of HiveManager NG, Aerohive’s next-generation, enterprise-class network management application, which is available both on-premises and in the cloud. HiveManager NG offers unified management of both Wi-Fi and wired access networks.
Aerohive believes it is the only vendor in the industry currently offering the same application and same capability when used as a public cloud subscription or running behind a customer’s firewall in its own data centre.
The difficulties of managing guest access to Wi-Fi networks and BYOD (bring your own device) have been the subject of much attention from Wi-Fi vendors over the last two or three years, as employees increasingly demand to be able to use their own devices and guests expect to be able to access Wi-Fi anywhere, anytime.
To deal with this, the latest version of HiveManager NG offers integrated solutions for guest access and personal device access. The solutions are designed to be easy-to-use and help improve enterprise IT departments’ ability to scale and resolve BYOD challenges by enabling guests and employees to securely onboard their devices themselves, rather than having to get IT personnel to authenticate them.
Exploiting new insights
Hennin explains that Aerohive’s cloud networking solution is designed to help enterprises engage more deeply with their customers by using the Wi-Fi network to provide new information and insights into their customers from which they in turn can develop apps that enable them to offer new services to those customers.
‘For example, retailers are very much looking for new ways to connect and engage with new prospects and customers and Wi-Fi is a good way to enable that,’ says Hennin. ‘Apps are being developed that leverage the information Wi-Fi access points (APs) capture. They then analyse that data to provide solutions to problems and find ways to solve them.
‘This is what I mean by people looking way beyond the simple connectivity that Wi-Fi provides,’ he continues. ‘We feel we are unique in that we offer this capability. We know that mobility has exploded and we think Wi-Fi has the possibility for a second wave – one that delivers greater value back into the enterprise.’
He adds that Aerohive’s new API platform sits on top of the cloud to deliver this capability and this is not something it could have done before it re-architected its cloud product to provide the new Connected Experience suite of solutions.
‘If you architect a cloud service to enable mobility then that infrastructure is created for control, consistency, visibility, to help the speed of deployment and ease of onboarding using tools got from a central location. Efficient onboarding to the network as you come in and out of buildings, for example, is the sort of thing we are looking to enable.
‘We’ve always been cloud-based with a controllerless architectural heritage. Many of our rivals have also now followed us and architected cloud services. But we think we’ve gone a step further than that by providing a big add on, and this is what required our ground up re-architecting of the platform,’ says Hennin.
‘The Wi-Fi APs can bring in data about a devices’ location, position, time and other touchpoints, which they can take on board. Our cloud can now digest all this data and deliver it back to our APIs, so apps can be developed using this data for added value services.’
Users can go back in time, for example. Was there a network problem in a building at a certain time? ‘You can now go back and see what the problem was. These kinds of services are at the forefront of what Wi-Fi technology is now capable of delivering,’ asserts Hennin.
Retailers can now look at customer flows around their buildings. Data on where they go and for how long can be turned into visitor traffic heatmaps and used for predictive store analytics. New functionalities like proximity-based promotional offers - vouchers or discounts, for example - can be sent to customers in the store or venue.
‘This information can be used to solve real business issues and it is the same in enterprises. What devices are staff using, how many of them are there, what apps are they using, where, when and how much capacity are they consuming and so on,’ says Hennin.
‘Our Cloud platform now has the data processing capability to handle this new data, but we also provide an API programme that people can plug into to develop an app and then use our cloud services. This enables organisations to develop individual, customised apps to deal with their particular issues and opportunities.’
Hennin says Aerohive envisages some bespoke apps being developed on top of its integrated guest access and BYOD management service to extend, develop and customise what it already offers. The types of apps that are being developed include: location based services (LBS); identity services; and monitoring services.
‘These are the three core areas people will develop apps around: where are they; who are they; and what are they doing,’ notes Hennin. ‘We can envisage that in some applications the basic services that Wi-Fi provides, such as connectivity authentication and radio coverage, will not feature at all. Instead, what is used is the data that we are able to deliver, which the app can analyse and then maybe solve a business issue.’
A great example of this is footfall, says Hennin. He points to the fact that there are a lot of expensive mechanisms looking at how people move in and out of areas such as face recognition cameras.
‘What we do is log unique devices moving in and out of buildings, but without any requirement to authenticate or reveal the identity of the individuals. This is data we see and touch and the cloud converts and delivers services in a consumable manner.’
Aerohive has created a partnership developer programme and is inviting developers to join it and develop apps using its APIs for its customers or the app development community generally.
‘The concept of being able to look at what is going on in the network has been around for some time, but we decided to go for it and architected our cloud to enable that and it will be at the front and centre of our positioning in 2016,’ reveals Hennin.
‘It goes without saying we still have to deliver a great Wi-Fi service,’ he adds, ‘but we believe the extent to which we have developed our cloud and developer programme is unique. We really do believe it is a brave new world for Wi-Fi and it is very exciting.’