Cisco Partners With Qualcomm for Location-Based WiFi Services

Cisco says the location-based technology in MSE will make it easier for businesses to monetize their WiFi networks and give users a better experience.

Cisco Systems wants to make it easier for public venues such as retail stores, airports, hotels and hospitals to leverage their WiFi networks to offer customers with mobile devices more personalized, location-based services.

Cisco officials are announcing a new WiFi location data analytics platform that will enable businesses and organizations in public venues to better monetize the investments they've made in their WiFi networks by giving customers an enhanced consumer experience. This is increasingly important at a time when the number of connected devices continues to grow rapidly worldwide and consumers are embracing location-based, personalized services, according to Sujai Hajela, vice president and general manager of Cisco's Wireless Networking Group.

The networking giant expects that there will be more than 18.9 billion mobile connections globally by 2016, and WiFi-enabled devices will grow to 2 billion worldwide by 2015, a 300 percent increase. In addition, 94 percent of consumers say they like location-based services, Hajela told eWEEK.

"It's a confluence of two worlds to enable enterprises to monetize this experience," he said.

Currently, retail businesses, hospitals, airports, universities and other public venues help people connect to WiFi networks, but they are missing out on offering additional services over the network that would allow them to make more money off those WiFi connections, Hajela said.

Cisco is hoping to change that by leveraging its September acquisition of ThinkSmart Technologies and its location-based analytics technology and partnering with mobile chip maker Qualcomm. The new location services and analytics features, announced Nov. 15, are being incorporated into the latest version of Cisco's Mobility Services Engine—MES 7.4—which is part of the vendor's Unified Access solution.

The new capabilities will give businesses and other organizations with indoor venues the type of information that GPS can offer companies in outdoor locations.

"The GPS capabilities are not as effective as when in an outside environment—they cannot pinpoint a mobile connection or understand an indoor environment," Hajela wrote in a Nov. 15 post on the Cisco blog site. "This presents an opportunity to develop a solution that connects businesses to mobile consumers who are actively using location-based services."

In its partnership with Qualcomm, the chip maker will offer firmware from Cisco in its Snapdragon S4 chipset, which will be found in upcoming smartphones. Devices with the firmware will be able to pick up signals from Cisco wireless LANs when they are in range, such as when the users nears a store, enters a mall or school, or goes to the airport. When the connection is made, users are alerted by a light on the smartphone's screen.

Through the connection, consumers will be able to get information about what is around them without having to log into the WiFi network. Hajela said control will lie with the consumers, who can sign into the network if they want more information, which could range from special deals offered by nearby stores to special downloads to flight information from the airport. They also can opt out of the local service altogether, he said.

"Qualcomm Atheros is enhancing the mobile experience by providing more precise context about who, and what, is nearby—in any environment," Cormac Conroy, vice president of location products and technology at Qualcomm Atheros, said in a statement.

The new MSE capabilities include Network Services Discovery, which lets businesses use their Cisco WiFi networks to detect and engage with device users connected to the network. Location Analytics offer real-time location information and historical trends as users move around a business, and the Mobile Concierge feature lets organizations engage with users through a native app on the mobile device. Cisco also is including a Mobile Concierge software development kit (SDK) to make it easier for programmers to create apps and services for MSE.

Businesses can use Mobile Concierge to analyze market trends and create marketing promotions aimed at the customers.

Cisco offered two examples of organizations that are leveraging the new location-based services capabilities in MSE 7.4. The Fernbank Museum of Natural History in Atlanta is creating location-based services offerings based on Cisco's technology that will work with a new WiFi network installed by AT&T. The new app—which customers can opt into—offers a variety of audio, video, interactive touch-screen, animation and information experiences activated based on where the user is in the museum. The app, powered by Meridian, also includes a hands-on visitors' map with directional navigation within the museum and information on current programs.

Meanwhile, Copenhagen Airport in Denmark is partnering with air transport IT provider SITA to use Cisco's Advanced Location Analytics solutions to track the flow of passengers throughout the terminal and monitor passenger movements from incoming flights to ensure adequate staffing in such areas as customs.