Wi-Fi becoming business critical to more enterprises

New applications will help businesses connect in real-time with customers’ smartphones, but wireless LANs must be protected against attack, says Motorola Solutions

Wi-Fi becoming business critical to more enterprises

Secure, reliable and robust wireless access has long been a mission critical requirement in the public safety world, but it is becoming a must have in many other industries, according to Todd Nightingale, director of engineering at AirDefense, part of Motorola Solutions.

Industry is waking up to the efficiencies and added value that wireless communications can provide. ‘It’s been deployed in education and healthcare for a while now,’ says Nightingale, ‘but now we are seeing retailers, transport and manufacturing adopting it.

‘People want more from wireless networks than in the past,’ he continues. ‘They want speed and more capacity. We are hearing from marketing and operations departments. The executive layer is saying I want technology to provide me with important business. I want to know how my employees are using the system and what are our clients doing.’

AirDefence and Motorola Solutions are delivering apps directly to retail marketing teams and store operations in particular. As Nightingale points out, many customers are walking through the doors of retail stores with sophisticated smartphones. He argues retailers need to take advantage of this by engaging with customers via their smartphones.
 
‘This is what we are trying to react to and provide the apps to clients and so this is how we are positioning the wireless portfolio,’ says Nightingale. ‘Retailers need to offer help and assistance for people using smartphones, such as in-store routing and navigation.

‘But first, the retailer must get its house in order by providing easy and free to use Wi-Fi hotspots. Once the in-house Wi-Fi is in order marketing teams can provide real-time, dynamic offers to customers via their smartphones. You attempt to influence the customer at the purchasing decision point in the store.’
 
Motorola is developing new enterprise apps based around real-time location-based services. For example, a retail store will be able to monitor and analyse visitor behaviour. The information is collated to provide a heat map showing where customers were and when, what they looked at and for how long.

The analytics then go to the marketing teams who can tailor new offers to customers day based on what they’ve learnt from customer behaviour patterns. This service app is expected to launch ‘soon’, according to Nightingale.

Asset tracking of equipment in stores and hospitals is another application, allowing managers track where equipment and staff go. It might be set up to send an alert if it enters restricted zone. Monitoring task completions is another application.

‘We see a lot of that and we tie up with the Motorola Team portfolio, so you can have advanced voice over wireless LAN architecture used in conjunction with real time tracking. You can despatch the closest qualified employee to a task, and track tasks for completion, as well as monitoring who did them and when in real-time,’ says Nightingale.
 
‘Smartphone adoption is driving this,’ he says, ‘as there are tons of them out there. People are comfortable with them and are happy to use apps, but we can make the experience richer. There is a huge interest in retail and healthcare and there are huge opportunities in manufacturing, especially in workforce tracking.’

But as wireless communication becomes more and more business critical, it also makes businesses more vulnerable. Security has become a major issue and this is an AirDefence speciality.

‘We are seeing a lot of wireless attacks and while the attacks have got more sophisticated, the sophistication of the attackers hasn’t. They don’t need to know much to hack a wireless device, because the tools are all out there and are easy to use and that’s scary,’ says Nightingale.
 
‘It used to be the college kid in his basement, but the trend over last year has been for really well funded attacks by organised crime and foreign governments coming after national agencies or organisations with credit card numbers or access to big funds.

‘We are rolling out AirDefence systems to combat the attacks,’ says Nightingale. ‘We protect the client network by putting the security out into the environment where the network ports are. We put in security sensors, which Motorola Solutions has fully integrated into its WiNG5 WLAN AP sensors. The protection has to be where the attacker’s entry point is – at the APs and entry ports. The system is all software upgradable too.’
 
The AirDefence system will alert the enterprise to an attack and prevent it from happening at the same time; Motorola calls it auto-mitigation. Rogue APs or unauthorised connections will be prevented.

‘A lot of what we see is a demand for getting good guest access,’ observes Nightingale. ‘Businesses want to have additional guest Wi-Fi that is as reliable as possible. The WiNG5 LAN system has been built to support that in fact. It’s been designed for ease of deployment and being able to combine AirDefence and WLAN into a single device completely changes the cost of ownership.’
 
Motorola’s WiNG5 LAN is a fully distributed architecture with smart RF built in. Each AP can provide a host of advanced features, so traffic does not have to be routed back to a central controller. If an AP goes down, the system auto repairs and no local controller is required.
 
‘It provides an extremely compelling total cost of ownership by providing network assurance, in-built trouble shooting, advanced features and a fully distributed architecture. It is very easy to upgrade too, so it provides a lot of future proofing for clients,’ points out Nightingale.?

Written by Wireless magazine
Wireless magazine

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