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Wi-Fi: The Great Enabler

By Mathew Edwards in · HiveMind Blog · November 7, 2014

You’ve just done your weekly grocery shop, you unload your car and prepare yourself for the trans-Siberian like journey that will take you from the car to the fridge. You brave the treacherous conditions with your supplies in hand, feeling the intolerable ache from the plastic bags digging into your hands. When you finally place the shopping on the floor or on the kitchen counter, you wipe your brow and bask in the glory of your accomplishment. Now you can rest. 

This is exactly how I would feel a few years ago after carrying my first laptop around with me all day long.

At first there was a sense of freedom, I wasn’t chained to my desk anymore, I was mobile. However, it quickly dawned on me that while my chain had been cut away from my desk, it had re-attached itself to a heavy plate that rested in my laptop bag. Luckily, over the years technology advancements have saved my spine with laptops that weigh half as much, and these days I roam freely around the office, with the corporate Wi-Fi facilitating increased mobility, productivity and collaboration on my mobile device. 

Mobility has changed everything, work is now a thing we do, not a place we go. Cloud and Wi-Fi allow us to access both corporate and personal applications from anywhere in the world, at any time. Most organizations provide a corporate laptop, however we all work differently, with efficiency achieved on a range of device types such as notebooks, smartphones and tablets, which we expect to work from. This places a demand on our network infrastructure to become more flexible in order to accommodate consumer grade devices that are flooding in. 

Recognizing that employees wish to operate in their own way, 50 percent of businesses will not supply employee computing devices by 2017, according to Gartner, opting instead to facilitate Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) initiatives. Already we are at the point of mobile reliance with 1 in 3 people stating that they couldn’t do their jobs without Wi-Fi connectivity. Forget work, I couldn’t survive life without Wi-Fi connectivity.

The next workforce wave will also expect connectivity. A recent survey by German researcher BITKOM shows that the Internet is accessed through a smartphone by 89 percent of 16-18 year olds. With an understanding that the workplace is changing, educational organizations are sculpting a classroom far beyond four walls, welcoming new ways of engaging students through mobile devices and interactive-enabling technologies in order to prepare the next generation of workers for the mobile world. Mobility sets both the student and teacher free of traditional shackles, no longer does the educator remain a static object in front of a board, and no longer does back of the class boredom exist for students because with mobility, a classroom has no back, everyone is free. 

Mobile technology is fantastic for any individual, giving us access to a wealth of information, whenever we want it. And this is apparent in any public space, 79 percent of smartphone users have their phone with them for 22 hours a day, suggests IDC. According to SAP, 44 percent of people sleep with their smartphone beside their bed and 80 percent check their phone within 15 minutes of waking up say IDC. 

The rise of mobile devices in our lives and on networks is fascinating and has enabled a completely new way of working, learning, and living, but it doesn’t stop there. Over the next few years we will see a new trend, which is the connected world of everything, as an increasing number of organizations utilize network-connected sensors and systems to enhance business potential and operating efficiency. Network connected sensors facilitate increased systems intelligence and awareness, we already see some of this today with personal devices such as Samsung Gear, Nike+ and Google Glass, devices that enhance the way we communicate with people or analyze our sporting successes for example. 

All of these connected sensors, phones, shoes, glasses etc. crave Wi-Fi as much as we do, continually looking for a route to either the Internet or to an internal system. Even though you may not yourself be actively trying to connect your phone to a Wi-Fi network, your phone may still take the decision to search and join itself anyway where possible. A smartphone, whether in your hand or pocket will send ten messages every second into the air with the message “Hey Mr. Wi-Fi where are you? I want you! I need you!”. Retailers have taken note of this behavior and have begun to adopt the concept of presence analytics, taking their wireless LAN infrastructure and using it for much more than basic connectivity. 

Imagine you are walking down the aisle of a supermarket when suddenly a message pops up on your phone that alerts you to a fantastic money saving opportunity for the very item you happen to be stood by. Wow, what are the chances of that? I’m going to take this as a sign that I need this item in my life. Fate? Or a smart retailer? 

Mobile devices are extremely intelligent, as is the infrastructure that they connect to. Working together they are a powerful force that can change the way we make purchasing decisions. We use our devices to compare pricing, check product availability and read reviews while in store, and retailers can now assist us further. Rewarding customer loyalty has always been a priority to retailers, and are giving us our personal shopper through our Wi-Fi connected devices to promote the latest items that they know are of interest to us individually, remembering our preferences from previous purchases such as size or brands.

eMarketer research indicates that by 2017, there will be 2.5 billion smartphone users globally and armed with the knowledge that 90 percent of smartphones are already Wi-Fi enabled, retailers are now beginning to capture device presence information so that they can understand the levels of traffic in and around their stores. Using device count and proximity, retailers can gather vital store information such as how busy the store is versus sales, how effective store front signage and promotions are, and perform regional comparisons of store performance.   

Location based information is extremely powerful and can deliver a wide array of opportunities for all kinds of organizations. Wi-Fi enabled tags can be placed on just about anything such as medical equipment in a hospital, or provide room temperature details in a food storage facility. New age warehouses even use positioning technologies to control and direct mini-robots for stock picking, creating a near complete autonomous operation. 

Wherever I go, I search for Wi-Fi, even when I visit my sports team’s stadium, because they offer me a fantastic service. Once I’m logged onto the Wi-Fi, I’m provided with options to watch replays, see different camera angles, order some food and beverages to my seat, and of course receive the usual promotions and advertising, all from my mobile device, amazing.

While commercial use of mobile technology is providing businesses with new revenue opportunities and alternative ways of working, Wi-Fi can unleash the potential of just about any organization. Emergency services are equipping their vehicles with Wi-Fi base stations that can be used to communicate with colleagues in hazardous environments and situations. These vehicles can also be physically positioned in a layout that allows them to form a virtual perimeter that can actively track any Wi-Fi sensor within their zone, increasing the safety and visibility of rescuers. These temporary Wi-Fi zones have been used to assist disaster situations such as the Haiti earthquake. Wi-Fi enabled flying drones can even be sent into the sky to hover above areas that require device connectivity.

Years ago I wouldn’t trust sending an email over Wi-Fi for fear of reliability, performance and security. Now I couldn’t live without it, and with some applications, we literally entrust our lives to mobile technology. As Wi-Fi adoption increases within the healthcare sector, sensors such as heart monitors are going wireless, providing more patient freedom and mobility. Now we really do rely on the Wi-Fi.  And if you really want to place your life in the hands of Wi-Fi, some roller coasters use Wi-Fi enabled sensors to control their braking systems…if you didn’t have a fear of rides before, you may now. 

At the end of 2013, there were more mobile devices than people on earth, states SAP, and they require connectivity. Give it to them.

Wi-Fi isn’t exciting technology, it is the enabler of exciting technology. Above are examples of some incredible uses of mobile devices, sensors and controls across all markets, but without an enterprise Wi-Fi platform supporting these mobility initiatives, their potential can never be fully realized. We all know the Wi-Fi can be unreliable, but that’s usually caused by poor design, implementation or inappropriate choice of platform. Whether your organization is investigating replacing you with a Wi-Fi enabled robot or simply letting you bring in your iPad to work, encourage a well planned enterprise WLAN infrastructure so that you don’t have to face the agony of a going a week without Wi-Fi due to performance or reliability issues, which according to Iconic Displays, leaves us grumpier than a week without coffee. 

 

Mathew Edwards (@Mobility_Mat)

Mat is Manager, Product Marketing at Aerohive where he helps drive strategy and vision for Aerohive's wireless LAN solutions.