CBTS periodically asks IT Leaders to share their insights and perspectives on important technology issues and challenges. These conversations also provide a glimpse into interesting companies and organizations – from startups to Fortune 500 corporations. We recently chatted with Veli-Pekka Ketonen, founder and Chief Innovation Officer of the Cleveland-based startup 7signal Solutions, Inc.
There was no visibility into how WiFi is actually serving the end users, how it’s doing its purpose. 7signal was founded to bring this visibility and bring manageability to WiFi networks so they can be managed through metrics and not ad hoc.
We are trying to move from this kind of ad hoc management to proactive management, where the network is managed based on metrics. There’s a dashboard. There’s a breadth of information on how well the service is working, and proactive actions to make it work better before any users actually start complaining. So, that’s really what the company was created to do. And that’s what we are still doing.
The most practical example has been the in-store experience like the Apple store model – mobile Point-of-Sale (POS). That’s a direction where most of the retailers want to go. It’s not a simple change. So, just get rid of the cash registers and have the people walk around with a tablet, right? But moving to that model impacts the sales, the model, maybe store layout, and things like that.
There are of course other things to enrich the store experience. There are apps and promotions. Then there is analytics, so you understand how the customers behave while they are in the store, tracking where the customers move around in the store. And maybe it’s not that sexy, but there are handheld scanners to do the inventory management. All these require a very good network.
We have The GAP as our customer, and they use handheld scanners. I think they want to do a mobile POS. They use Wi-Fi a lot in their warehouses for collection and gathering the items. Another example is Panera Bread. Panera alerts the customers when their order is ready. It uses table trackers and that system requires WiFi.
Banks are envisioning lounges where people come to their branches, and they take care of their banking business, but they might use their laptop, have a cup of coffee, and have access to the internet. Similarities to Starbucks are obvious. Hospitals have a lot of medical applications using WiFi, and the staff needs to access WiFi. Patients want reliable access while they stay there. Stadiums and arenas use WiFi, not only to provide access to the internet, but also for other emerging applications like ordering food and drinks from the seat.
The interference is one of the key problems with retail because stores are close. It’s completely uncoordinated network buildup. So, one store has no control of what is in the other store, or how the WiFi is configured, how it is used. But the radio waves do propagate. What’s happening in the neighbor stores directly impacts how well your WiFi is working. The air interface gets overloaded. Basically, too many data packets in the air from improperly configured networks essentially consume the air time and then you have a poor experience.
A widely acknowledged challenge is that remote facilities do not have any IT professionals onsite. Especially WiFi expertise is centralized to corporate headquarters. At the same time, WiFi networks lack capability to assess and measure their state and the experience they offer to users. This makes managing the networks very difficult. We can bring the visibility. We can remotely pinpoint where are the issues so they can be addressed in a timely fashion.
WiFi is interesting technology. It’s kind of a victim of its success. It was made so resilient that it can handle almost impossible conditions. If there’s a lot of interference, or very bad signal coverage, or low signal strength, it will always try to work. It will try to adapt to the conditions and provide some connectivity. If you want to have well-performing WiFi and a good user experience with WiFi, you need to do better than that. You need to carefully plan the network, and then you need to carefully look after the network.
CBTS is helping organizations manage their networks to improve the customer experience and support mission-critical applications like Wi-Fi. To learn more about our network solutions, please click here.