Been in IT long, Sailor? Anyone who has spent any time at all in IT in the last decade is familiar with at least a few different variations of the concept of convergence. Whether we're talking about voice over IP, streaming video, or how the low-voltage world of fire and security systems are migrating to the IP network, convergence has been all around us for so long that we hardly notice it anymore. But now WLAN startup Airesham is redefining convergence, as an exciting and strange new breed of Wi-Fi access points (APs) brings a most bewildering mix of functionality to the enterprise wireless space.
When I first spoke with Airsham's CTO, Joseph Madre, I truly didn't know what to make of the game plan Airesham has in mind for the WLAN industry. As Madre sees it, Wi-Fi has already been done every way it possibly can be, ad nauseum. From autonomous APs to thin models to cloud wireless and back again, there's just not a lot left to get excited about in the 802.11-based wireless space, by Madre's reckoning.
Airsham's solution to ho-hum wireless? Adding practical, everyday "lifestyle" features to high-performance 802.11n APs to completely change what's possible in wireless deployments. I have to admit, when Madre got into the specifics, I found myself appreciating the brilliance of the Airesham model.
Airesham's basic premise is simple: You have a set of strategically placed networked locations distributed around your facilities, at wireless AP mounting spots. Why stop at delivering wireless access, when other services can be co-located at AP locations to enhance quality of life and to provide solutions for other organizational challenges?
For example, Airesham's AP-PIC model is a combination dual-band 802.11n AP and digital picture frame. Yes, you read that right--an AP that can also display pictures in places like hallways, lobbies and even restrooms (think revenue stream from advertising). But it gets even more exotic as the rest of the product line unfolds.
Other Airesham offerings cover a lot of previously strange ground. Like the AP-AUD, which is an AP/speaker hybrid for both Muzak distribution and wireless access. And the AP-SHINE, which features Nite-Glo illumination by pressing the AP's cover to activate a nightlight in low-light/hotel settings. (Motion detection activation is expected in the near future.) In geographic areas where seasonal disorder (cabin fever) is a concern, the AP-UV model bathes the entire Wi-Fi cell in both high-speed wireless access and beneficial ultra-violet rays to keep the funk of the winter doldrums at bay. The product set truly takes the notion of convergence to some pretty wild places.
Madre did save the best for last, as he brought up the slide deck for Airesham's crown jewel and warned that what I was about to see is very much the real thing. The AP-SH actually projects a "Get Smart"-style cone of silence over the entire wireless cell, in response to customers and government agencies that worry about eavesdroppers outside the boardroom walls.
The silence effect covers both wireless and spoken communications in what has got to be one of the most amazing feature sets seen in the IT world of late. Wireless clients and people simply talking to each other within the reaches of an AP-SH cell can communicate freely, while no one outside of the cell is aware of the wireless or verbal communications going on within. Future refinements should include VSHAM features that allow further segmenting the cone of silence into sub-cones, isolated from each other. Try to tell me that it's not a new day in the wireless world.
I asked Madre whom he felt could compete with Airesham's unique feature set. For now, he's feeling pretty good about the uniqueness of his company's offerings, but he admits that he has heard rumblings of at least two competitors soon to release similar multifunction access point products. (He declined to name them.) Madre said he expects to see competing APs that double as intercoms and provide disco-style lighting, and can even foresee a model that can take blood pressure readings as users pass through the cell.
Now that is what I call convergence.