Jeff Aaron, VP marketing at MIST Systems, a Juniper Networks company, explains the growing trend towards AI and machine learning in the development of intelligent Wi-Fi networks and how the integration of Bluetooth and trend to Wi-Fi as a service are game changers for the industry.
Wi-Fi is no longer a ‘nice to have’, it’s a ‘must have’ for staff, customers, guests, suppliers and partners. The truth is that we all expect ubiquitous, reliable and high-quality connectivity – not just to check emails and feed our social media activity, but also for video streaming, sharing and conferencing. Yet, 15 years on from Wi-Fi’s inception, we are still using manual processes based on dashboards, devices and logs to manage most Wi-Fi networks, from configuration and capacity planning to real-time incident response and dealing with user experience issues.
But with the sheer number of phones, tablets and other mobile and IoT devices and applications now in service, these manual processes simply won’t cut it anymore. Instead, we need a new level of automation to improve performance and efficiency, along with far greater insight and granular visibility of the network and user experience. That’s why the Wi-Fi industry is starting to address these challenges by harnessing new artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning technologies, along with cloud systems and big data analytics, to deliver a new breed of Wi-Fi systems.
Intelligent Wi-Fi networks
When it comes to intelligent Wi-Fi, it’s all about the quantity and quality of the data. For example, at MIST, we have Access Points (Aps) that collect over 150 user states from each connected device every two seconds, to know exactly what is going on in the Wi-Fi network in real time and understand the individual user experience. To process and compute this level of big data requires a cloud-based architecture capable or analysing the information and running complex algorithms to do things such as dynamic event correlation, anomaly detection, service level monitoring and control.
Hyper-connectivity now means customer connectivity expectations are soaring, so reliability and the level of bandwidth provided are crucial. Using these machine learning and AI technologies on such as massive data set will enable network providers to be proactive, gain better insights into customer participation and allow them to troubleshoot and optimise their networks to generate a new level of end user experience. For the first time, network providers can make more informed decisions and prioritise zones with higher density to guarantee enough range and bandwidth. The end game is to stay one step ahead and identify any issues before they occur.
Virtual network assistants are here to help
The power of AI and big data also helps to facilitate another exciting innovation for Wi-Fi – the use of virtual network assistants, which help manage and automate network optimisation and remediation. For example, Mist’s own ‘Marvis’ is one of the first AI-controlled, network-management assistants that allows system admins to ask the network questions verbally using natural language processing. This means that many wireless network problems can be resolved without human intervention, evolving customer support from one of helping IT manage network elements to one of helping businesses manage the user experience.
Bluetooth and Wi-Fi come together
Bluetooth technology is not new but the cost and compexity of deploying multiple beacons has held back wide adoption. This all changes with Mist’s patented virtual Bluetooth LE technology that eliminates the need for physical beacons. By integrating a bluetooth antenna array inside the access point, it is possible to create virtual, software-contolled beacons that define zones with up to a meter accuracy. This Virtual Bluetooth LE, (Low Energy), makes it possible to deliver location-based, wireless and personalised services including access control, route guidance, information delivery and environmental management such as temperature and lighting control. It can also be used for asset management and the location of valuable equipment, such as mobile computer systems or medical equipment.
Key markets for this technology include retail and healthcare. For example, by facilitating a physical IoT port, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi suddenly open up exciting new opportunities for IoT applications. In healthcare, dementia patients can be given the freedom to roam, but with monitoring and access management for their own safety, controlled via simple BLE wrist bands linked to the Wi-Fi/Bluetooth access points.
This functionality, flexibility and control not previously available with Wi-Fi networks, allows resellers to tap into new markets and applications, transforming what was once an infrastructure expense into a powerful productivity, services and marketing tool to generate additional revenue. Nuvias, the EMEA VAD for Mist Systems, can provide related training and additional information to channel partners.
Enter Wi-Fi as a service
Wi-Fi has rapidly become another necessary utility along with running water, electricity and mobile cellular services that we rely on. So, it makes sense that Wi-Fi follows the trend and migrates to an as-a-service model for those organisations that prefer to pay on a subscription model, outsourcing the provision and management of the network and services. Reducing upfront investment also removes the barrier to entry for smaller businesses and organisations, while open APIs allow channel partners to develop their own new applications. Additionally, with unprecedented levels of data, network insight and automated control, it is now possible, for the first time, to set service level agreements for Wi-Fi. What’s more, virtual BLE lets you add new services and personalize the wireless experience for even greater network value. So, in the future, we can all enjoy a great user experience with more reliable, seamless connectivity.