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Lee H. Badman
Lee H. Badman Network Computing Blogger

3 Lessons Learned from Wireless Field Day

WLAN location-based services are hot, wireless technology is getting more complex, and WLAN interoperability just isn’t going to happen. These are the three big ideas I took away from Wireless Field Day.

Last week I served as a delegate at Wireless Field Day 4, an event arranged and led by Stephen Foskett of Gestalt IT. The event brings bloggers and industry experts together with a group of vendors for meetings and discussions. The vendors sponsor the event, and delegates get a chance to grill the vendors and provide real-world feedback on their products and strategies. My fellow delegates and I met with Aruba Networks, Cisco/Meraki, Juniper Networks and Motorola.

I found the time spent with the other delegates to be as valuable as the vendor meetings. This crew is passionate about wireless networking and seasoned in the design, installation, evaluation, and support of all things WLAN. So what did I get out my time with the wireless companies? Here are some of the highlights.

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First, mapping and analytics looks to be a hot area in indoor WLAN, particularly retail environments. As more people carry smartphones and tablets, WLAN APs can be employed to track their movements and activities, which opens the door to a slew of new location-based applications and services that can monetize the wireless network. For instance, I wrote recently about a partnership between Aerohive and Euclid Analytics that will use sensors built into Aerohive APs to monitor Wi-Fi enabled smartphones and "report on the number of people who walk past the store, the number of visitors inside the store, how much time they spend there, and visitor frequency."

At the Wireless Field Day event, Cisco talked about location-based features in its Mobility Services Engine (MSE 7.4) that could use a WLAN to make it easier for visitors to navigate large venues (think malls, stadiums, large corporate campuses, and so on). This maps closely to services offered by Canadian startup WiFarer.

Second, it's clear from both the formal presentations and casual discussions that wireless networking continues to get more sophisticated in technical complexity and feature sets. This has implications from sales to installation to support, particularly in corporate environments where employees expect wireless access to be as ubiquitous as coffee in the lunchroom. As wireless becomes the default access method for employees and guests coming to the office, the WLAN needs to be rock-solid in terms of availability and performance. It also means companies have to decide how much longer it makes sense to support both a wireless and wired access layer.

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Third, it's becoming ever more clear that multivendor WLAN interoperability is a pipe dream. It's simply never going to happen. As each vendor builds on exponentially deeper proprietary roots, lock-in will continue to be the rule, and switching WLAN vendors will get more difficult for big environments. That's disappointing.

Other Takeaways

In addition to the above three points, there were other takeaways from the event. One is that the WLAN market appears to be robust. For example, one delegate roundtable focused on the scarcity of WLAN talent in the market. In addition, most of the vendors present predicted sales growth and wireless market expansion in the next several quarters.

Meraki discussed how its cloud-managed Dashboard service works behind the scenes. This was perhaps the most riveting presentation. With multiple data centers in various countries, it is both an art and science to keep huge amounts of customer data across thousands of Dashboard accounts in line, peppy and backed up. The presentation was a study in parallel computing and other lofty topics not often shared with networking types.

Finally, no discussion of WLAN would be complete without 802.11ac. Cisco presented delegates with its vision for 802.11ac, but the other vendors present either avoided the topic or were sheepish about on-camera discussions. To my mind, this means Cisco is more confident in its 11ac roadmap than the other competitors we spent time with.

That's the short recap Wireless Field Day 4. For the full scoop (including recorded sessions, photographs and social media interactions) and information on future Field Day events, see Tech Field Day. My travel and hotel costs were covered by Tech Field Day. I wasn't paid to attend. Motorola gave delegates a stand-alone AP.



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