Big innovations in Wi-Fi

AI and ML have ushered in a new age of intelligent Wi-Fi networks, and the integration of Bluetooth and emergence of Wi-Fi as a Service are game changers, says Mist co-founder and CTO Bob Friday.

Intelligent Wi-Fi is shaping the next chapter in connectivity, providing a new level of automation to improve performance and efficiency, along with far greater insights and granular visibility of the network and user experience. “But 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,” commented Friday. “With the increasing number of phones, tablets and other mobile and IoT devices and apps now in service, these manual processes are not good enough. That’s why the Wi-Fi industry is starting to address these challenges by harnessing new AI and ML technologies, along with cloud systems and big data analytics to deliver a new breed of Wi-Fi systems.”

Intelligent Wi-Fi is about the quantity and quality of data. For example, Mist (a Juniper company) has access points that collect over 150 user states from each connected device every two seconds to show exactly what is happening in the Wi-Fi network in real-time and understand individual user experiences. Processing and computing 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.  

“Harnessing the power of AI and big data also helps to facilitate another exciting innovation for Wi-Fi – the use of AI controlled virtual network assistants which help to manage and automate network optimisation and remediation,” commented Friday. “These assistants allow system administrators to ask the network questions verbally using natural language processing. This means that many wireless network problems can be resolved by an automated help desk without the need for human Tier One or Tier Two intervention, to reduce downtime and provide an unprecedented insight into the behaviour of customers and networks.”

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

Connectivity expectations continue to soar, so reliability and the level of bandwidth provided are crucial. “Using ML and AI technologies on such a 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,” added Friday.

“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.”
Bluetooth technology is not new but the cost and complexity of deploying multiple beacons has held back widespread adoption. However, by integrating a Bluetooth antenna array inside the access point it is possible to create virtual software controlled beacons that define zones with up to a meter accuracy, explained Friday.

“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,” he said. “It can also be used for asset management and the location of valuable equipment.”

Key markets for this technology include retail and healthcare. For example, by facilitating a physical IoT port, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi open up 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 and Bluetooth access points. “This functionality, flexibility and control that was 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,” said Friday.

It is a well known fact that Wi-Fi has rapidly become another necessary utility along with water, electricity and mobile cellular services that we rely on. “So it makes sense for Wi-Fi to follow the trend and migrate 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,” stated Friday.

“Reducing upfront investment also removes the barrier to entry for smaller organisations, while open APIs allow channel partners to develop their own applications. Also, with unprecedented levels of data, network insight and automated control, it is possible to set SLAs for Wi-Fi. What’s more, virtual BLE lets resellers add new services and personalise the wireless experience for greater network value. In the future we can all enjoy a great user experience with more reliable and seamless connectivity.”

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