Tag Archives: Ryan Adzima

Beacon Baby Steps

As I put this blog together, I do so knowing that I risk the ridicule of those who have gotten a lot farther in both understanding beacons and using them for some real-world value proposition. Though I understand transmitters of all types very well and I’ve covered other beacon-related initiatives (like Aerohive’s integration of beacons in APs ) and done my share of reading on how beacons are gaining in popularity as building blocks in a number of applications, I’ll admit to really not “getting” them yet to any technical depth. But that is starting to change, as I’ll tell you about here. And as an added bonus to you, I get to drop a few names of really smart people that I have the privilege of interacting with on occasion.

Free Beacons!

Awhile back, Ryan Adzima turned me on to a beacon giveaway that netted me three of these. Not being one to pass up free cool stuff , I got my beacons- and they ended up sitting on a shelf almost a year (I basically didn’t know what the hell to do with them.)

Fast Forward- Renewed Interest

I follow a lot of industry goings on as a freelance analyst. It’s no secret that Location-Based Services/Analytics is a running topic du jour in the tech media, and many a WLAN vendor has announced their own beacon story- like Aruba and Cisco’s Meraki. Knowing that there’s a lot of buzz around beacons, I worked them into my daily Twitter #WIFIQ question on June 4. The conversation that ensued reminded me that I was overdue to play with my Qualcomm beacons.

What sparked me to get back on the path that Ryan Adzima started me down was conversation with AccessAgility’s Zaib Kaleem and Extreme Networks’ Mike Leibovitz. Zaib turned me on to some beacon-related apps, and Mike triggered my interest on proximity to beacons being used as one component in banking authentication. Newly energized (see what I did there?), I busted out my Qualcomm Gimbals and got busy gettin’ busy.

Time to Play

Laying hands on my three neglected Gimbals first brought back the clueless feeling I had when I first looked at them and put them on the shelf. But this time I wasn’t content to stay in the dark. I took the bold step of cracking each one open and getting the watch battery connected, then I found the Gimbal Management App in the Apple app store.

At first, the App couldn’t see my beacons! Gotta be dead batteries, I thought… but then I went to the Gimbal Manager site, recovered my long-forgotten password, and figured out that I needed to activate each beacon.Gimbal

I also needed to configure each and upgrade firmware, which was quite easy. (We’ll come back to the “configure” thing.) Bingo! They showed up in the iPhone app.beacons

At this point, I realized/reminded myself of a few basic important facts:

  • Until the beacons were added to my account online, they were dead to me despite being powered up. (Private is default, you can make them “public” so anyone can see them, btw.)
  • My online account and my iOS account are synced for beacon management.
  • The beacons report their battery strength and the ambient temperature, and the mobile app tells how strong each beacon is being received
  • Though I now have three live beacons that can be managed, I still don’t know what to really do with them… no use case, no business application to hook them to, etc.

Knowing that beacons are all about proximity and location, I embarked on a simple exercise. Down a long hallway with three pictures hanging on the wall, I put one beacon on each picture frame, then watched my app show signal strength for each as I walked the hall.hall

This seemed like a reasonable way to see what might go on behind the scenes at the signal level on a walking tour, or in a retail environment where different app events are triggered by a customer coming close to a beacon. Here, this is the view as I transitioned from Beacon 1 and got close to Beacon 2, with Beacon 3 at farthest point down the hall.
.beacons1

Big deal, right? To me, it is. That’s because yesterday, I had ZERO first-hand working knowledge of beacons. With this these simple steps, I now get the technology and how it’s managed at a very, very basic level. I feel like I get the foundation, and I do understand many of the big use cases for beacons. It’s that middle ground of real-world implementation that I have yet to learn. Baby steps…

Back to the beacon config thing. For such a simple device, there are infinite permutations for what you can do with them. I think this is what is so hard to wrap your head around, especially given that along the line you may have to do some coding (or steal somebody else’s code). Zooming in on the menu gives a sense of just how many directions you might go bringing beacon-based use cases to life:
beacon menu

So… I now know a little, and know that I still don’t understand really USING beacons despite understanding the scenarios where they are employed. But with what little I now have touched and brought to life, I do understand links like this and this a bit better. Still a long way to go though, but ya gotta start somewhere!

AirTight Networks Rising

A lot can happen in a just a few months. Back in August of 2013, I sat in AirTight Networks‘ conference room for Wireless Field Day 5, and can’t say I was exactly impressed. I wasn’t particularly down on AirTight, but the WIPS-only-turned-WLAN-vendor didn’t seem all that exciting compared to more mature offerings. But as S.E. Hinton once wrote- that was then, this is now. Having gotten first-hand updates from AirTight at Wireless Field Day 6, I can say that this time I was impressed. In fact, AirTight nailed it.

The WFD6 presentation was excellent, but there are side-plots to the story worth mentioning. For one, the last time I saw Devin Akin in person, he was with Aerohive Networks. And the last time I saw Ryan Adzima, he was making the rounds with me at WFD5 as a delegate himself. Now both excellent gents, along with Ex-Hiver Andrew vonNagy, are with AirTight. (I pontificated about Akin and vonNagy jumping ship in a past blog.) It was a treat catching up with Adzima, and hearing Akin work his part of the presentation. Great people, I tell ya.

Also, AirTight were great sports about a rather brash Mylar theft that had taken place during WFD5, and rather than having the perpetrator thrown in Balloon Jail, they opted to have a little fun with the story. It really was a nice touch, and I thank them for putting up our silliness in this regard.

But back to the important stuff- here’s why AirTight is a company to watch, and a solution to consider:

AirTight now has an 802.11ac story, but as Devin Akin rightly pointed out- so what? Everybody does. Anymore, it’s the rest of the solution that counts as much as fast access points that rarely get used to their wireless capacities. The rest of AirTight’s solution has matured nicely (and rapidly), for stand-alone customers and for those interested in a managed services paradigm. AirTight reminds us that they are massively scalable, and are targeting multi-site, distributed environments with large numbers of aggregate access points as their feature set gets harder to distinguish from other cloud-managed WLAN players that have more years on them. Remember, with AirTight there are no controllers and no expensive, labor-heavy NMS servers to keep up.

WFD6 delegates also heard the message loud and clear- there isn’t much to AirTight’s licensing system. You buy AirTight, you get everything they have. There are no options, no add-ons, no BS. This is great for customers, but as other vendors who started out with the same message have found, if AirTight ever does start breaking out features and charging a la carte for them, they are likely to take a shellacking for it after the one-price-gets-you-everything paradigm becomes the expectation.

You have to remember that AirTight is two stories in one. Beyond WLAN access, the company arguably rules the industry from the WIPS perspective. AirTight security guru Rick Farina gave a convincing demo (and that he busted out a Pineapple for his live attacks made several of us giddy). Between Rick and VP Hemant Chaskar, real-time demonstrations of the vulnerability of Wi-Fi and accompanying narrative made the case for why it’s not enough to have just a dashboard full of alerts that you can’t do a lot with. You gotta have real wireless security that you can use, understand, and leverage to protect the WLAN. Again, the sessions were excellent and it’s obvious AirTight has invested in great technical talent.

The videos from AirTight’s WFD6 sessions are here, and are must-sees for anyone shopping for business Wi-Fi or wanting to learn more about AirTight. Have a watch, and expect AirTight to keep up the wow factor in the months to come.