The future of WiFi technology
By Martin May, regional director, Enterasys Networks
If we were to look back over the past decade, what would the stand-out technology be? It's a safe bet that many would opt for WiFi, certainly one of the most useful and convenient technologies of the recent past.
While 'WiFi' has evolved into a synonym for any wireless local area network (WLAN), only WiFi products that successfully complete WiFi Alliance interoperability certification testing may use the 'WiFi Certified' trademark. The WiFi Alliance, a trade organisation formed to promote the technology, owns the trademark, allowing manufacturers to use it appropriately.
Ready access to high-performance WiFi technology has become a necessary part of today's digital lifestyle. The rise in popularity of smartphones and tablets, combined with enterprise bring your own device (BYOD) programmes, has sent the demand for enterprise WiFi connectivity through the roof, says Martin May, regional director at Enterasys Networks.
Now, the technology is on the verge of taking a leap into the future with the imminent ratification of the 802.11ac standard.
Faster (up to 1.3 gigabits per second), higher signal quality and more reliable WiFi connectivity, thanks to the use of beam-forming technology, will greatly improve WiFi performance in congested public WiFi zones. Beam-forming creates a more focused signal that extends range and lessens the possibility of signals interfering with each other.
When combined with innovative, media-rich publishing platforms, new-generation WiFI will open the door to a world of opportunities for laptop, smartphone and tablet PC users. At the same time, new revenue streams will be created for businessmen ranging from retail store owners to sports ground promoters.
For example, WiFi network solutions are already in existence generating advertising-based revenue through location-relevant information and marketing messages delivered to the mobile devices of shoppers in a non-intrusive, content-controlled environment.
This new digital real estate engages shoppers with relevant brands when they are within close proximity to a store selling them. It complements digital signage, video, print advertising and other marketing initiatives and programmes.
Trials of these systems in the UK have shown that, given the opportunity, 73% of smartphone owners will use their phones when they are out shopping to check prices, look for special offers or use new-generation apps to boost their shopping experience, all the while remaining connected to social media feeds on Facebook, Twitter and other popular sites.
In the sports arena, WiFi networks provide fans with high-quality, fast and reliable WiFi access to the Internet, so they can watch videos, check scores, listen to music, or just surf the Internet from their mobile devices during a game.
Today's sports fans are craving ever-greater access to venue- and event-specific content. Traditionally, patrons have been forced to use their 3G/4G cellular service, if available, for Internet access. As the number of smartphones and mobile devices has exploded, access to higher-speed, highly available networking is demanded. Modern WiFi solutions are the answer.
Looking to the future, the WiFi Alliance's Passpoint programme is gaining traction. Passpoint seeks to make public WiFi hotspots as easy to connect to as cellular networks. The Alliance is also backing a 'voice enterprise' initiative to improve the quality of voice calls over WiFi and a certification programme enabling extended power saving features for existing WiFi installations.
Then there is the new smart grid standard in the wings. This will use WiFi technology to connect household appliances, consumer electronics and motor vehicles, helping to manage and optimise their energy use.
As WiFi complexity increases, so management will become key. Cloud-based WiFi management systems are being developed that eliminate the complexity associated with traditional wireless services by combining the simplicity of a cloud service with the performance, manageability and reliability of enterprise-grade WLANs.
The results include simplified deployment, reduced costs, the elimination of hands-on day-to-day management and 24/7 security.
The evolution of WiFi is also placing emphasis on the role of the chief digital officer (CDO) in many organisations. In their latest guise, CDOs are becoming responsible for social innovation within their organisations, including Web, mobile, social media, loyalty, e-commerce and - of course - WiFi initiatives.
As a central member of any corporate leadership team, the CDO is now required to develop strategies and business innovations effecting social transformation across the corporate landscape, most often using WiFi technology as the enabler.