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Mist spreads new idea for cloud-managed Wi-Fi

Startup Mist rolls out a wireless service that blends artificial intelligence, virtual Bluetooth Low Energy beacons and unprecedented visibility into network performance.

A new Silicon Valley vendor has introduced a cloud-managed Wi-Fi service it claims will overcome the performance limitations of existing wireless infrastructures, while providing businesses with the visibility they need to monitor their networks.

The company, Mist, based in Mountain View, Calif., said its service is an attempt to rearchitect current Wi-Fi networking technologies that were largely created before the boom in mobile connectivity redefined how people communicate.

"As more applications are moving to mobile devices, the criticality of the network has never been higher," said Mist CEO Sujai Hajela, who formerly served as senior vice president of Cisco's enterprise networking group. "It's no longer the connectivity era; it's the customer experience era."

The Mist wireless platform uses a combination of big data and machine learning to track user behavior and ensure network performance. A cloud-based analytics and correlation engine combs through each packet generated by wireless users on the network; if the engine detects any anomalies, it can adjust the access points (APs) as needed and notify IT administrators with root-cause information for immediate remediation. As a result, any performance problems relating to congestion, a malfunctioning AP or other networking issue can be quickly addressed, Hajela said.

Virtual Bluetooth technology boosts location services

It's no longer the connectivity era; it's the customer experience era.
Sujai HajelaCEO, Mist

Instead of using physical Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) beacons to anchor indoor-positioning capabilities, Mist placed BLE functionality within its 80211.ac Wave 2 APs. The virtual Bluetooth Low Energy (vBLE) technology, for which Mist received a patent, eliminates the need for separate, battery-powered beacons and enables customers to deploy wayfinding, promotional and informational services more rapidly, Hajela said.

The vBLE APs are equipped with 16-element antenna arrays that are powerful enough to ensure locational accuracy within 1 to 3 meters.

Wave 2 80211.ac is designed to support speeds of up to 6.9 Gbps, a significant boost from the first generation of infrastructure based on the standard. Wi-Fi Alliance-certified Wave 2 consumer devices are expected to hit the market in the next 18 months.

College looking at cloud-managed Wi-Fi to increase engagement

An early adopter, Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, is installing a handful of Mist APs equipped with the virtual beacons in a building housing an art show that opens in July, said the school's CIO, Mitchel Davis. "We'll use the system to target people moving through the art show, to see who they are and to show them information, like the history of the artist." Davis said he's particularly intrigued by the vBLE technology, which will allow him to offer beacon-anchored informational and promotional services to students, faculty and guests, without having to physically install the devices. "The virtual beacons are very important; I can very much see the use of beacons and the apps we have, and it all can be done in a virtual space."

The college currently has a Cisco wireless infrastructure encompassing more than 500 APs, but Davis said he plans to place Mist APs in any new buildings or facilities the college might construct. In the meantime, he's also anticipating the development of Mist adapters that would work with the existing APs.

Mist is primarily marketing its cloud-managed Wi-Fi service through managed service providers, but will also sell it directly to enterprises, Hajela said. Pricing begins at $1,385 per Wi-Fi and vBLE-equipped AP. Network monitoring and locational capabilities are offered at an annual fee that ranges from $150 to $225, per AP, depending on the services requested.

Next Steps

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Understanding indoor location tracking

Wave 2 forcing network changes

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