The Importance of Location in Wi-Fi. Wireless Field Day 8 at Cisco, Zebra, Aruba, and Levi’s Stadium!

Breakfast of champions.

As the second day of wireless field day began, we were all eager to find out what we would learn from 3 of the top Wi-Fi vendors in the world. After meeting with Ruckus and seeing their emphasis on moving control and administrative platforms to the cloud to facilitate mobility from a larger perspective, I wondered what the other big 3 were up to. How would they be increasing the ease of use of mobile connectivity and what would they be doing with it?

The heavy hitters we had lined up for the day were Cisco, Zebra, and finally Aruba. While there are many manufacturers out there, these 3 and Ruckus have spent the last 5 years shuffling spots with each other jockeying for those top positions.

With Ruckus having introduced the first 802.11ac wave 2 product to the marketplace, their presentation the day before didn’t necessarily focus on that, however the other guys are now getting their gear to market so I expected to see some of that hardware make its way into the sessions.

A Visit to Cisco Systems

Cisco started off by not only introducing their ac wave 2 product, but going deeper to show off what they were doing with Mobility Express. Their new platform for getting customers up and running quickly and easily showed its simplicity with a live demo of their hardware and software platforms. In less than a handful of minutes a new ap was powered up, and here’s where the fun started.
Watch the video here:

It looked across its wired interface for a traditional expensive wireless controller, and when it failed to find one, it became its on controller. I’m gonna pause right here because that in and of itself is pretty fantastic. It shows that Cisco is moving to the model of getting their networks up quickly and easily without having to implement a ton of infrastructure to support a simple install. With a deep breath of fresh air, this was a moment. Thanks for reveling in that with me. Oh but wait, there’s more. It turns out that as an independent controller this device now had the capability to support up to 25 other Cisco APs. Not just their ME line either, all Cisco APs.

Photo Credit: Cisco Systems

For a small business, a branch office, or somewhere that is around 150 users, this is incredible. The icing on the cake? It’s included in the cost of the ap. The two models this is supported on are the 1850 & the 1830 ap. 3×3:3 and 2×2:2 respectively both using 802.11ac wave 2.

With an intro like that, we knew our day was off to a great start. The main idea here is that Cisco is taking a stance to make mobile communications easier to implement, connect to, and manage.

Following that presentation we dug deeper into an application of the wireless network: location. Now that it was easier than ever to get a Cisco wireless network up and running, let’s see what we can do with it.

Darryl stepped out with a transparent new version of the hypermobility module to run us through what new features Cisco was implementing to make tracking the locations of devices easier. Fastlocate, presence, and location were the techniques used.

But why? Why is knowing where devices are important? Aside from the analytics and heat mapping components is an underlying reason: to deliver better service. If the network knows where you are, it knows what to connect you to, how to connect to, and when to connect you. Along the theme of true mobility, we are now seeing the first glimpse into a huge component of offering future network services: location.

If the network is aware of where you are and where you are going it is able to offer you a better experience. While at the moment that might mean getting you on the right access point, it’s not a far cry to think that it could direct you to a different service, frequency, or even technology. It could even help you speed up how you connect to different severs and services for critical applications or plain old video streams.

Location awareness overshadowed by looking at it as the eye candy that is location analytics, finally got its case proven, at least to me, by Cisco. Well done!

To wrap the Cisco block we went over a few Meraki items that I am not entirely sure what were.  I think it was Sentry, which had something to do with MDM, not really sure what MDM is though.

I don’t necessarily have anything against Meraki, I’m just not a user. As such there was really no intro as to what it was for us non-initiated. For those of you that know about the MDM and what not, I’d encourage you to watch the video recap:

I’ve known about the product for quite sometime and even followed it’s pre-Cisco rise through the market. Once a Cisco rep started trying to tell me that I should deploy them 1 per classroom across an entire school, I really kinda tuned em out. As the presenter mentioned yesterday, 2,000 locations, 1 per location, as a great use case (& one I can totally agree with), I really think that’s where that group should stay focused. That’s just me though. Not trying to hate at all, so please don’t take it that way. Rather, inform me and make me a better customer 🙂

Please note: the presenter was quite put together, had a bad ass hat on, and was very well versed in his product and I can always appreciate some great effort.

Zebra and the Home of Wi-Fi!

We packed up out gear, rolled up our fancy blue XLR cables, and headed down to the Symbol Motorola Zebra campus.

I have a great respect for that campus. Some of my first official Wi-Fi training took place there when the Moto paint was still on the wall and all the equipment still had the Symbol logo on it. Fast forward to our visit and the Zebra logo was just about dry and the batwing emblazoned gear was hanging from the ceiling.

The home of Wi-Fi. Symbol San Jose. Such history in that place. So, what did they have in-store for us? Well a bit of history.

They showed off an extremely well polished, deeply impactful, and totally comprehensive solution of a back-end system that did just about everything everyone else was trying to do, and yes they were moving it all into the cloud. Save hyperlocation, the ability to spin ap’s into controllers, cloud manage them, integrate 802.11ac components, retail analytics, etc. it was all there. More importantly it had been there.

MPact slide from Zebra

With the introduction of the RFS-6000 and WiNG overall a handful of years ago, these devices have been making quick work of processing ap data and giving operators the ability to work with it for quite sometime. That AirDefense acquisition all those years ago was behind a bunch of it, but the true power is in WiNG and the integration with MPact and NSight. NSight shows you what your network is doing, how it’s doing it, and why it’s doing it. MPact gives you location awareness across your network using both Wi-Fi and BLE in a single console.

So is Hyperlocation really needed by an AP manufacturer? Well it depends. With nothing on the horizon for LTE-U and other technologies, and no hints to move on to anything other than being fantastic at Wi-Fi, it’s a tough call. It didn’t seem like Zebra was necessarily focused on a mobility play, more of a perfect Wi-Fi play, but I could be wrong. That’s not to say that Wi-Fi alone can’t benefit from 1 meter location awareness, but it just depends on what the goal of the customer is I suppose.

Does their tech work? Well, they weren’t quick to drop names, but 50,000 APs across 40 locations at Caesars Entertainment did come up.

As true pioneers in Wi-Fi, these guys are always a step ahead. When one of the delegates said “I hope it’s not the same presentation as the last time with new logos on it” we agreed. And it wasn’t. However, it could’ve been, and everyone else in the industry would still just be catching up.

Next was a field trip to a surprise location. 

We loaded in the limo with our trusty Ramon at the helm and headed North. We exited on Great American Parkway (which I usually associate with a quick stop at In and Out before heading back to Texas) but this time we kept going.

As  we rolled up towards the entrance of the parking lot, Stephen Foskett announced where we were headed and what we were doing: A behind the scenes look at one of Aruba’s showcase networks: The Wi-Fi at Levi’s and as such the Wi-Fi network for Super Bowl 50.

After a handful of selfies by just about everyone in the crowd we were ushered up to the 6th floor of the SAP tower to the Aruba suite to get a bird’s eye-view of what we’d be walking around that afternoon. What a site!

Aruba Networks

We moved into the board room to kick off two sessions by Aruba: one by Kiyo Kubo, the founder of Meridian, and the second by Chuck Lukaszewski, the man responsible for Large Public Venue deployments for Aruba.

The first presentation dealt with designing apps in Meridian using location based services, specifically the Aruba iBeacon product. To say that it made it seem simple is an understatement; drag this here, drop this there, apply an action, etc. Kiyo showed off a number of ways to work with iBeacons and how their technology can give you fascinating insight into everything from where the closest beer stand is in the stadium (and how to get there), to finding out what the most appropriate time to use the restroom at the office is based on average amount of time spent in there, per hour.

Here’s the video:

The overall picture was that iBeacon technology doesn’t have to be difficult to use, understand, or design for, at least not from Aruba’s perspective. I honestly am pretty excited to get started designing solutions with this not because of how easy it is, but because that ease of use gives me the ability to focus on a much larger solution while not having to worry about a huge learning curve to give my customers something amazing.

Our next presentation is one of the few that didn’t really fit into the overall theme of mobility, but it spoke directly to our group as wireless professional. Chuck gave us a break down of the elements of designing and engineering a network for large public venues. This is a space that Aruba has paid special attention to and has pretty good success. By defining a specific LPV team to oversee their deployments in these scenarios, Aruba has set a goal to ensure that each one of these implementations is done so with with a rigorous amount of attention to detail, experience, and execution.

As he walked through the slides we got some fantastic tips and lessons learned that can be applied to any type of integration where large numbers of people are expected to visit an have access. From deployment techniques to something as simple as DHCP, this peek into their showcase deployment was fantastic. To kick it up a couple of rungs on the ladder, he even put his desktop up on the main screen and dug into the CLI of the controllers to show us log files, errors, DFS checks and more. Here is a link to the video which I highly recommend you take a look at:

As far as infrastructure goes the numbers were astounding: a huge amount of APs deployed, 4 sets of controllers, 40Gbps fiber fed to multiple cores on the network to handle their traffic load, dual redundant multi-gig connections to the internet, and from the looks of it, enough switching horsepower to move $8 million dollars worth of transaction per game-day with little effort.

If you layer on to this what they are doing with beacons and the meridian architecture, it’s absolutely incredible. You can bring the app up in your seat, get walking directions to each of the restaurants, bars, and shops in the stadium, figure out which to get to based on wait time, order in-seat ad have it delivered to you, or get instantaneous deals delivered to you based on location.

The use of hyperlocation in this venue is unlike anything I have seen before outside of a tradeshow. To know that each and every one of the 60,000 capacity venue has access to this every gameday and at every event, and to know that it is actually working, is astonishing.

What we didn’t go over was the ability to deliver services, deterministic network procedures, loading, and advanced hand-off via hyperlocation. I’m sure there is some thought in there, but we jsut didn’t touch it at all.

With the size of the JMA DAS/Small Cell deployment at Levi’s Stadium (it was incredible to see SO many antennas in place there for LTE) I’m sure there is a need for it, but without some vendor to vendor interaction, I don’t see if going down at Levi’s first.

Whew! I made it through WFD8!

That’s my wrap of day 2 at Wireless Field Day, and if you made it this far, thank you.
I’m going to try and get a comprehensive overall wrap written soon, but after being on the road for a week and running my own shop, I have a bit of catching up to do.

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