Friday, August 22, 2014

A New Entry in Retail Analytics brings DPI to Wi-Fi Big Data. Welcome Fortinet!

The retail analytics space just got another new player in the game: Fortinet announced yesterday availability of presence and analytics. Teamed up with Kiana Analytics out of San Francisco, Fortinet comes to the game a little later than some of its competitors, however the power of the FortiGate UTM device makes them a formidable contender out of the gate. To learn about their product via a webinar, sign-up here/

What intrigued me about this new system was the inclusion of deep packet inspection. We have already explored what can be done with location data, analytic data, and social data. now let's talk about deep packet inspection. One of the coolest things that is demo'd is the DPI of data streams from a customer store.
Here's the scenario:
A user jumps on the free Wi-Fi offered at the store so that they can showroom, or shop, the store prices. For example a Kitchen-Aid mixer. Let's say it $199 at Target, but the user uses the Wi-Fi to look it up on Amazon to see if the purchase price is cheaper .. it is: $179. The shopper decides to wait on the purchase and buy it online. As the shopper makes his way out of the store, a digital display pops-up a coupon saying "Hey man, I know you want that mixer, here's a coupon for $20 off if you buy it now".

How'd it happen? Why $20?
How'd it happen? The DPI component of the FortiNet device is watching and waiting for search queries from Google, Bing, Yahoo, etc. When it sees a search query come through, it strips the query down, grabs the product item and the online price, compares it to the in-store price, determines if it can cut a coupon for the difference, and the waits for the customer transaction. If the customer transaction doesn't take place (location tracking combined with dwell time at cash register location ... duhhh) then it issues the coupon on the display before the user exits the store. Or pops it up on the phone. Etc. Etc.
Mixer: sold.

As a FortiNet partner, I have come to rely on its capabilities and service with almost every installation that we do. About 90% of the customer installs I perform include some type of FortiNet component. They're great at mitigating threats, providing a secure working environment, and a centralized interface to control everything that goes into and out of the network. When you combine that with the capability to supply deep packet inspection and reporting information on retail presence and analytics, it seems like a match made in Heaven for an already powerful network device.

I think they really hit the nail on the head with this latest feature set, knowing that their customer installs are all over the place. Being able to provide this type of wireless insight on top of the existing network data is a goldmine. I just hope they open it up to allow other manufacturers access points to send data to the device / cloud service. Don't get me wrong, I dig Fortinet but would love to have a few other AP vendors be able to feed it (AirTight, Ruckus, Xirrus, Aruba, Meraki, etc). While I'm dreaming, I'd love to see support for other devices (sensors, iBeacon, etc. be able to send data) :)

The A/B comparison testing on Kiana is fantastic!

The analytics component that they are featuring is not a homegrown solution. FortiNet has partnered with Kiana Analytics out of depths of Silicon Valley. I had not heard about Kiana before this, so I was anxious to find out as much as I could, as quickly as I could. I had a great call with the CEO of Kiana that ran the rounds of retail intelligence, big data, visualization, actionable insights, and more. It was awesome to have that one on one time with Mr. Fathi, as I am sure his world is about to get turned sideways once the FortiNet marketing and sales teams get a hold of this and dig deep into their user database for sales.

Here are some key things that I liked about the demo that were clear standouts:

Loyalty and campaign management give you the ability to track marketing efforts with visitor performance.
Intuitive and easy to use graphs and visualizations are a key strong-point of the Kiana service.
Heat mapping of clients using RSSI with animations for traffic patterns.

In our conversation we talked about the important things that drive retail analytics and what that means to the end user. I'll share my thoughts:

1. Visualization
Big data is great, but without the proper graphical representation of it, its useless. Store owners, specifically retail and hospitality, seem to be the prime target with wireless retail analytics. If you present them with a CSV full of numbers and percentages, you might has well turn into Beaker from the Muppets and start talking in beeps and blips. Visualizing the data and having it directly reported with little or no interaction is paramount. Don't show me the thousands of numbers and decimal points, give it to me in a big picture that makes sense.

2. Monetization Through Actionable Items
You all have heard me use the example of understanding the customer trends and then acting out management tasks or environment changes to counteract those trends. That's the key. Don't just tell me that people aren't there from 7-8, tell me what how to get them there from 7-8. This is the hardest part of all of this. Early on in my adventure with this stuff we hired a marketing professional to help analyze the data and direct the customers on what to do with the data. Take those fancy charts and graphs and figure out how to use them to drive business. The data is great, but its the action that is taken because of the data that makes the money, and that's what pays the bills.

3. User Experience
All of the data combined can be a phenomenal way to deliver customized, personalized, and overall beautiful user experiences. Take advantage of that. When looking at a retail analytics solution, don't just look at it for the data it can provide the shop owner or retailer, look at it for what it can do for the customer through the store. Alter the music, change the ambient color of the LED lightning, customize the menus and displays, etc. With all of this data at your fingertips and the ability to build each user visit custom tailored, offer something that no one else offers!

One of the features that I really got a kick out of was the ability to search for "VIPs" by MAC address in the system. The results below show how much time a user has spent at certain locations, either at a single store or multiple stores, and what section that user spent the most time at.

All in all, I'm excited to see this entry onto the field. As a FortiNet partner its exciting to see them doing something fun, and as a retail analytics nerd, I'm even more intrigued. This space is picking up some serious momentum and I can't wait to see where it goes next. As was said by a friend, "I guess mobile tracking is table stakes now, time to kick it up." I for one can't wait!

Thursday, August 14, 2014

The McAllen Creative Incubator gets a new Wi-Fi network!

One of the greatest things about doing what I do in the local community is that I get to go visit places that I haven't been to in a pretty long time, or that I went to as a kid and get to see them from an entirely different perspective. One of those places is the building that used to be our old local public library. Throughout the day today I've been upgrading their wireless network to introduce brand-new capacity, capability, and connectivity, not only for the guests that visit the building, but for the tenants of it as well.

Where the old library once thrived is now the McAllen Creative Incubator, a facility that encourages creativity in the arts and hosts art studios & schools, music schools, a local LPFM station, and open space for people to come and be as creative as they wish.

There's always something fascinating going on with the incubator, but up until recently they've been working off of a hacked version of a Netgear wireless router running DD–WRT. With 18 different offices inside this building and about 30 or 40 people there, teaching classes to 20 to 100 children at any given time, I felt like it was a pretty important initiative to get some new wireless connectivity in that building.

When you're trying to teach children and teenagers how to be as creative as they possibly can, the last thing you want to do is limit their capability to do things like get online and access rich content on the web. One of the tenants at the incubator, an LPFM radio station called KCYP was started by a buddy of mine named Joe Martinez. A couple of years back he got the itch to teach children about broadcasting and radio.
Now that it's been on the air for a number of years, it's great to see that they've made an impact on so many children's lives by teaching them about how to do something that they cherish, which is listing to music.

Sidenote: The RF nerd side of me wishes that I could teach some classes about RF signal propagation and different types of modulation rates so that maybe I could encourage some of these kids to grow up to be RF engineer. :) Anyhow..

One of the things that was asked of me today when I was installing this network by Joe from KCYP, was the amount of capacity available so that he could start streaming live WebCams from his studio. They currently stream all of their audio over the Internet but now he wanted to be able to show the faces behind their broadcasts online, encouraging friends and family to tune in. I think this is a great opportunity to leverage the connectivity at the incubator, however it wouldn't be possible unless there's enough wireless connectivity to support these types of endeavors.

We installed Ruckus Wireless 802.11n and 802.11ac products around the facility to serve the capacity and user-loading situations. We used 802.11n in the common areas, and 802.11ac in the specific meeting areas where there will be lots of client-to-client communication. Eventually we'll probably upgrade it all to AC, but for now this keeps the cost down while providing reliable, speedy, and well balanced throughput.

One of the key reasons we pushed AC into the meeting areas is because we are moving our CODE#RGV events over to this facility. CODE#RGV is a social hacking project where anyone who's building something .. an app, a website, a database structure, something, anything .. is welcomed to come and look for help, donate their help, and contribute to larger group projects. We've outgrown our space at IMAS and look forward to bringing more nerds out of the woodwork, and the Incubator allows us the room, schedule, and central location for it. If you can imagine 30-50 geeks parked in front of laptops pushing and pulling a ton of data, that is CODE#RGV, and that's why we need that 802.11ac capacity :)

McAllen Chamber of Commerce has been kind enough to do business with us and allowed us to help change the lives of not only the tenants of the incubator, but of all the children that they reach on the daily basis. Combined with the network we built at IMAS earlier in the year, I'm glad that we were chosen to provide the solutions for this and future community projects.

All in all I take a lot of pride in my city and a lot of pride in the projects that we get to work on down here. From my perspective, its more than just hanging APs, its providing something to people who may not even know we did it, but they'll be ecstatic that its there. :)

Monday, August 11, 2014

Re: Liking One Social Wi-Fi Case Study- and Disliking Another

Lee Badman wrote a killer counter-point write-up to my preso at WFD 7. Naturally I had to respond :)
Here's the link to his posting: Liking One Social Wi-Fi Cases Study and Disliking Another

Check out Lee's comments at the roundtable here

Lee, what a great write-up! I think you nailed the counter-point perspective perfectly, and I am happy to read, and respond to, what your concerns are.

I'll start with this:
The information, in the case study that we are using, that is gathered from the profile is not stored for more than the user session in the environment. Why? Because of the "Christmas Music" factor. If I retain your info and hang onto it, what happens when you're listening to Christmas music in December and you return to the AP in July? I don't care about your previous musical taste because it's not relevant. Relevancy is the whole key to this thing. Sure, there is data that can be collected and used to draw conclusions (top 10 music lists, top 40 artists of the year, etc.) but that data doesn't have to be tied to any personal data whatsoever.
The key here, again, is to deliver relevancy to the end-user by using the most current and up to the minute information possible. Music, food, experience, etc. all play into that, but only for the life of the session. Transient data my friend .. definitely saves on "big data" storage costs as well :)

Second, the opt-out list.
A number of manufacturers, with a constantly growing list, support initiatives such as Smart Store Privacy ( This gives you the ability to black-list or opt-out your MAC address from not only Wi-Fi tracking, but low power Bluetooth as well for future iBeacon stuff.

In addition to both of these points is MAC hashing, or user hashing. Sean Blanton from AirTight went over this a bit; in short the data collected is linked to a hashed ID when collected. This keeps you, you, and turns your data into another "thing".

In our examples, to address your bullet points:

  • If I opt in, can I opt out? (The example here is a bar- what if I’m crocked when I opt in?)
  • If I opt out, can I ask that anything to do with me personally be deleted?
    Dependent upon the person who you granted access to and built the application, maybe! It's up to each individual developer.
  • Can I expect that anything to do with me that was sold to others in exchange for “free” Wi-Fi be deleted from those other data stores as well?Again, dependent upon the person that you originally shared the data with.
  • If it becomes common knowledge that my personal life preferences are manifesting through the establishment’s environmental reaction to my presence, how might a stalker or identify thief leverage that simply based on what they observe, even if they don’t know my name?Knowing your preferences in things like music or beer selection, while I guess could be part a bigger picture to stalk you, are probably some of the end-trails of the information a stalked would use to go after you. I mean, if I was stalking you, I'd dig through your trash first and stake-out your house .. just sayin :)
  • What if “the algorithm” somehow gets it wrong, and turns me into someone I’m not based on what it reads in my profiles and shares that with the outside world through interactions with me at the establishment?
  • What if the algorithm gets it wrong, and sells my flawed persona to other companies who now think I’m someone I’m not?Those two points are totally awesome. If you, like Sam mentioned at WFD7, game the data, there's no telling what will come up. However that's the outcome of trying to trick the system though, right? Garbage in, garbage out? :)

Like I said, overall I am stoked that you approached this, especially on your blog. It was a pleasure to hang out with you and I hope to keep this conversation going. This is definitely going to be one of those topics that is never answered satisfactorily to anyone's expectation, but it's great for conversation!

Community / Municipal Networks and Classroom Extension for Rural South Texas

An article got published in our local paper with a few lines I was quoted on regarding citywide wireless access.
"Misison to Set-up WI-Fi Hotspots for Students"
All in all I think it's a great idea to start to look at classroom extensions in more areas like ours. I am a firm believer in extending education into the community where possible, and I continue to work on projects like this anywhere I get the opportunity to. From the inception of these technology pushes to get tablets and Chromebooks into students hands, I have always asked "why not infrastructure first?"

Bridging the digital divide and providing access to rural parts of our country is a way to use tech that I absolutely cherish. Growing up in an undeserved area has given me a perspective into these types of communities. When someone can't afford to heat their home or buy clothes, how can they justify even $15 a month for internet access? I am a strong believer in helping out the entire community for the growth of the city or town, and I think this is why its always been a soft spot for me.
Through Point to Multipoint wireless instead of expensive fiber connectivity, the decreasing cost of outdoor access points, and now the backing of the FCC and government with the new E-Rate rules, pushing Wi-Fi into classrooms and communities will hopefully become more commonplace. If we can leverage assets from cities and municipalities to help usher in this new age of at-home connectivity for students, imagine the possibilities? Remote learning, increased access to educational resources, the ability to learn at a pace and program customized to the students, etc. I think these are just a few of the benefits we'll see in the upcoming years with these types of classroom extension

Just a few days before the polls closed, the re-election campaign for Mayor Salinas dropped this YouTube video, and it got a couple of us local tech guys excited.

In an environment like these two local districts, Sharyland ISD and Mission CISD, they have started a limited deployment of technology to the students, while looking at the bigger picture of constant connectivity. I think this partnership between City and School District it's a great approach.  The statistics in our area, 37% adoption rate (the lowest in the US), has always been something I have thought needed some significant improvement, especially when talking about community / classroom extension. No one entity can do it alone.

In early 2012 I got invited to join a friend, and local super nerd, on the rooftop of a building in the City of Mission to provide free Wi-Fi during the local Citrus Parade.

A great view of the main street, Conway Ave., in Mission, Texas.
Not the best desk, but it worked for the day.

It was a proof of concept to help bolster the efforts he was mounting to build a community based network, so I was happy to help. Using some inexpensive off-the-internet gear, the network quickly got bombarded with requests to join.

Shaine syncing up mesh units and testing antenna locations.

It was a totally awesome test and it showed that there was a very large interest in the Mission community for Free Wi-Fi. Since then, Shaine Mata (who's also quoted in the article) has joined our team here at Frontera to help build out projects like this, as well as lend his efforts to a number of other things we do. It's exciting to see it come *almost* full circle from that rooftop. Heck, at we have a newspaper article that is spawning some conversation, so that's a great start :)

I'm excited about what we are doing down here in South Texas. We have a few cities that are already involved in, or working on, setting up connectivity solutions for their residents. The City of Rio Grande City cut the cord on their downtown Wi-Fi hotspot to kick off Phase 1 of a bigger initiative earlier this year, a project we designed, engineered, and installed. It is already getting huge points from the local school district for providing students a solution for the lack of broadband at home!

Me (Drew), Rio Grande City Mayor Ruben Villarreal, Darel (Frontera)

I hope to see more communities realize the potential of these networks and keep involving more school districts to partner in making community efforts a priority for helping students ... and remember, feel free to call or email if you need help designing, engineering, integrating, or purchasing this type of solution :) </shameless plug>

Friday, August 8, 2014

Responding to the Social WiFi Roundtable

This is a great topic, and a great video. I am totally bummed that I was not able to join live. However, using the power of the Interwebs, I will now go back in time to respond to some of what's being said. I love technology.

Here's the video to play along at home:

2:03 - To Keith:

"For some reason wifi vendors think "Oh we have to make our customer think this itself is gonna make them back money".
That point is off a little bit, in my opinion. Its not ::rubbing hands together:: vendors trying to slide one by on the customer, it's integrators proving the value proposition of their product. Not only does it do everything the customer needs / wants / desires, but it also allows the business owner to recoup their costs. Heaven forbid we sell something that actually has a $0 economic impact on our customers. I wish everything had an ROI like that attached to it!! Escalators may not make that play because they can't. Wi-Fi is in the fortunate position where it can, which is huge for the industry. It's not everyday that you can position a product with your customer that does what they need, pays for itself, and might even make them some money in the long run. We're lucky that we, as technologists, have a product that does that.

3:20 - To Steve:
"Yeah but I can plug my Tesla into your electrical outlet.."
Nice one.

5:52 - To Keith:

"The stores are lazy. The stores could do it right now. The could get analytics anytime they wanted by using clickers."
You could walk to WFD from home, but you don't. Technology has allowed you to fly here. Are you saying that people shouldn't take advantage of tech breakthroughs that save time, money, and resources while delivering huge amounts of data as an added bonus? We could go back to hanging numbers on scoreboards at ball games too, but we don't; we use digital signage to track the players, their hits, etc and look what it gives us: batting averages, percentages, on base records, etc. simply and easily.
"And they did, and they'd still do it if it wasn't for the vendors saying "We have this really cool way that if you buy our stuff it'll just work".
I'm so lost with this point. Someone invented something that helps customers do things more efficiently and has loads of benefits, and to market their products into an industry the talk about the amazing features of it, and you're faulting them for it? I really don't understand.

7:01 - To Richard:

"If you're signing into Spotify and linking all of these services with your Facebook account, you're already there."
Exactly. We are not accessing anything that was not made available by you.

7:09 - To Lee:

"But that's between you and Facebook. Not between you and Facebook and whoever owns the bar, or whoever their VAR is, or my weird cousin Leroy."

But now it IS between you and the bar, or the VAR, or whoever YOU approve access to. No one is forcing a user to sign in socially, or penalizing them if they don't. When you give access to an app, whoever controls that app has the access.

9:00 - To Stephen:

"Is there a chance that social wifi is going to have that same kind of thing where people realize "well, maybe this isn't radically great data, maybe we should just not use it"

I don't know. I don't think so. Where someone is willing to spike the data, like Sam mentions, to sign-up for something, this is a a little different. Social media interactions already behoove people to share their genuine likes and information because the realness is the part they want to share; the check-ins, the bands they like, all of it. The median age of MySpace must have been 105 at one point because everyone had a bunk birthday on there, but things have changed a bit. I could be wrong and just getting older and more disconnected, but the more stuff I see online, the more celebration of the truth there is. That being said, if people are honest with what they put in, then the results are honest coming out. The world is just now starting to realize some of the potential in interpreting this data, but to me its fascinating.

13:00 - THANK YOU BLAKE. :)
The permissions that are requested when you use Scrape, or Target's app, or any 3rd party app require you to see AND APPROVE everything that the app is requesting. It is up to you to allow it access or not.
Check this out, if you wanna see everything you've granted, go here:

And if that's not enough, they introduced new Facebook login rules that are going into effect right now.

17:15 - To George:
Speaking about iOS MAC obscurification.

What I find odd is that they are limiting the usability of the MAC address chipset for location and contectual based services, while promoting iBeacon in the same breath. They don't want you to be tracked via MAC, only via .. Mac. :)

That's really all I got on this. I would have loved to sit in the session with you all to discuss more. Like I told Keith at the event here, through conversations like this, it helps mold how these things are taken to market. It is up to us to help define the ways the technologies are used. I think there is a goldmine of information out there that *someone* is going to start to tap, and they have already started .. but at the end of the day, no matter how much it gets shrugged off, it is in fact up to the education of the end-user. The new Facebook login features for example make it more clear what the app has access to, but if you just click OK and don't read the ToS or what you're giving up, don't get upset when someone uses that data.

Hope you all have safe flights and a wonderful weekend. :)

My Case Study on Social Wi-Fi at AirTight Networks for Wireless Field Day 7

Video of my presentation yesterday from Wireless Field Day 7. I'm so blessed and honored not only to have the opportunity to chat with this group (thanks again AirTight Networks who gave me a time slot) but also to have such an amazing response from my peers from across the nation via Twitter and online!!

Here is a link to a blog post on AirTight's page that is basically this presentation in written form:
Enchantment is the new Black: A Guest Blog from Drew Lentz of Frontera Consulting on Social Wi-Fi

Getting the ball rolling. Starting up a tech company in 2014

I'm sitting in an Embassy Suites in Santa Clara, California. I look out my window and across the way see the Biltmore Hotel on the 101. One of my first trips out here had me staying at the Biltmore (Thanks Skypilot!) and I can't help but think about how far I've come.

I had a great talk yesterday about a product we're working on, and when I was going over the next steps, it all really hit me that I'm in fact quite a ways through launching a startup company. Sitting in Silicon Valley, with an idea, a demo, and some interested parties in hand .. launching a product. It's a little surreal and has my mind flipped around a bit.

Walking through this hotel, I wonder how many times the dated walls of this place have seen people like me come and go. What other ideas were born here? How many of em made it? How many failed?
Dinner last night underneath the old McAfee building that now sports a FOR LEASE banner, and lunch today in the parking lot of what used to be the Yahoo! HQ (now EMC2 and Intel/McAfee Secure) had the same feel. It's strange to think about the web's ex-super powers going from nothing to everything to hidden.
In all my trips out here, this one has the "feel" of something different. It's not just visiting a vendor, having a training, attending an event, this one is about what MY future is in this Valley. Hopefully tomorrow goes well and we can take it all a few steps at a time!

On another note the San Jose Mercury News has a great write-up with Jeremy Stoppelman, the CEO of Yelp, talking about the company turning 10 years old. It discusses things like when Google wanted to buy them for $500 million and he said no after chatting with Steve Jobs. Now, he alone holds stock worth $400m and the company is valued at $5 billion. That's billion with a b. :)

One of the most interesting parts of the article in my opinion though is this, when asked about diversity in tech:
If we are focusing on technology jobs, meaning software engineering jobs primarily, by the time you are talking about a company, you are talking about the end of the funnel. The funnel begins in high school, really, or even earlier maybe. If you want women and minorities to succeed all the way at the end of the funnel in a tech job, you have to increase the numbers starting at the top of the funnel, at the earliest age, and then make sure they stay in the funnel and get all the way through.

I'll talk later about the incubator / accelerator that we are working on in McAllen, Texas, but that is why it hit home: filling the funnel. We hope to make that happen in our area pretty soon, and I'm proud to be a part of it.

If I can help some kid from the streets of the Rio Grande Valley find their way to Silicon Valley some day, to sit in this Embassy Suites and feel like a 20 year old in the 1990's, then I'd be glad to do so. I'm gonna go drive around now and stare at buildings .. hell, I might even dumpster dive. :)

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Well, I'm supposed to start a blog

In the tradition of trying something after hearing about it at Wireless Field Day, I am supposed to start blogging. A bunch of folks told me it would be a good idea, so why not. What should I talk about?

Well, I'm a wireless network solutions architect, so I might as well start there.

WFD7 was awesome for me today. AirTight Networks had invited me out to present at their showcase for WFD7, and I must say it was probably the most fun I've had doing a presentation. The audience was great, the topic was fun, I was surrounded by total nerds, and my wife was even watching back home.
The preso was shared out on Slide Share so everyone could follow along, and pretty quickly I was getting some great comments. Here are some of my faves:

So yeah. That about sums up my day. Totally awesome.