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New Aruba Mobile Engagement platform combines Wi-Fi, BLE technology

Aruba's Mobile Engagement platform combines Meridian Wi-Fi locationing services with BLE beacons for precise positioning and centralized management.

Aruba Networks is moving away from its Wi-Fi-centric approach to location-based services with its new Mobile Engagement platform. The platform combines Aruba's Meridian Wi-Fi location-based services and new Bluetooth Low Energy beacon technology for more precise and personalized mobile services for both IT teams and end users.

Many vendors are offering mobility services using either Wi-Fi to determine location, or Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) beacons to pinpoint a user's proximity and position. While there are benefits to each approach, Aruba is covering all the bases by offering a combination of more precise BLE positioning technology, backed by its centralized, Meridian-powered management platform.

"Historically, these beacons have been managed almost on a one-by-one basis, but that's the change these Wi-Fi vendors can bring. Beacons can almost become network devices, and [be] used and managed a little more thoughtfully, instead of ad hoc," said Zeus Kerravala, principal analyst at ZK Research, based in Westminster, Mass.

Aruba Mobile Engagement combines BLE technology, Wi-Fi services

The Aruba Mobile Engagement platform isn't entirely based on new technology. Rather, it's an enhancement of Aruba's existing Wi-Fi-based Meridian indoor-locationing services with the vendor's new, internally developed BLE beacon technology. The combined technologies allows IT to create and push out notifications, and offer precise navigation to end user sevices, said Ozer Dondurmacioglu, senior director of product marketing for Aruba.

After completing a secure opt-in process, users can receive information from either Aruba Meridian-powered apps or a mobile browser via Aruba ClearPass Guest Advertising. Android and iOS mobile apps that recognize Aruba's BLE beacons and the Wi-Fi infrastructure can then securely determine a user's position, and engage the mobile device inside the building.

The new platform can enable indoor mapping technology, similar to Google maps, Dondurmacioglu said. "This is very unique, and will allow [an IT organization] to create better marketing opportunities based on where their users are," he said. "[Wi-Fi] location-based services are not very useful or effective without the use of maps being built-in."

IT teams can plug Aruba's new BLE beacons into USB ports on Aruba access points or deploy them as standalone devices. The combination of Aruba Wi-Fi infrastructure and BLE beacons allows IT to update, troubleshoot and manage their entire infrastructure from the centralized Mobile Engagement platform. They can also use it to create new applications and opportunities to interact with end users to generate more revenue, Dondurmacioglu said.

The IT team for Levi's Stadium, the brand new 1.85 million square foot home of the NFL's San Francisco 49ers, has been using Aruba's Wi-Fi location-based Meridian technology and has beta tested Aruba's Beacon technology in the new stadium, which seats 68,500 spectators.

"Due to mobile devices and their nature, the Wi-Fi triangulation services were fine if people were sitting in the same area for a long period of time, but it wasn't really a good way to locate people moving around," said Dan Williams, vice president of technology for the 49ers.

Williams and his team wanted to be able to provide mapping technology to help guests navigate turn-by-turn, or place food and drink orders with the nearest concession. They also wanted to tie the technology into their in-stadium mobile app, he said. The IT team has deployed as many Aruba Beacons into the stadium as there are access points.

Guests can take advantage of the technology to find what they need, as close as possible to their seats, Williams said. "[The technology provides] a consistent, natural blue dot experience that you would see when you're using a typical map application that leverages GPS," he said.

Are BLE beacons the future of location-based services?

Apple's recent move to randomize the MAC addresses of iOS mobile devices prompted the industry to consider user security. A scrambled MAC address offers some privacy, but users can no longer take advantage of Wi-Fi location-based services from a favorite retailer or sports stadium. BLE beacon-based positioning services have a similar opt-in process, but users can only receive information from the closest beacon. This technology also offers a more precise location of the user when compared to Wi-Fi-based location services, so users can't be bombarded with irrelevant information.

"We are essentially no longer advocating Wi-Fi-based locationing, and there is a variety of reasons why we moved away from Wi-Fi," Aruba's Dondurmacioglu said. "Our customers were asking for things that Wi-Fi alone couldn't deliver, but besides that, when Apple and Android started to hide MAC addresses to protect consumer's privacy, we thought security could be a slippery slope."

It's more difficult to hide identifying data associated with a personal device using Wi-Fi based locationing services. Because Bluetooth doesn't require a MAC address, it's easier to anonymize data, said Nolan Greene, research analyst of Network Infrastructure at IDC, based in Framingham, Mass. "One of the main concerns users have with Wi-Fi locationing services is that it is a form of Big Brother," he said.

Aruba's new platform doesn't capture or retain user information. Users can opt-in via a three-step process, and the system will only push information of interest to the user if they are close to a beacon. The user can also opt to search for a beacon when they want to use location-based serfives, instead of allowing a beacon to find them and push services, Aruba said.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Gina Narcisi, news writer, and follow @GeeNarcisi on Twitter.

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