Tuesday, June 16, 2015

HITEC2015: Day 1 Diary. Innovations & News for Wireless in Hospitality

Day one of the exhibit hall at HITEC just wrapped up and with it did my first day getting a glimpse into the hospitality segment of wireless networking and Wi-Fi. With over 300 exhibitors and an enormous turnout, HITEC focuses on all areas of technology in the hospitality industry. From connectivity to those pesky minibars that charge you when you move a soda can, it's all here.

Although wireless connectivity itself didn't have a huge presence, per se, the integrators and resellers of the technology were out in full force. From smaller operations trying to carve a name out for themselves to groups that have tens of thousands of doors underneath them worldwide, next generation services were very well represented, with a fundamental of connectivity as more of a given, than a feature.

It is refreshing to see connectivity at the point where it is almost taken for granted, however there are still some amazing things that were being showcased that proved that there is still a ton of innovation to be had getting users online.

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Part of getting users online that has been the most widely contested, at least in a few circles over the past 9 months, has been the captive portal vs. open access debate. With a unique and solid entry into this market, I paid a visit to AirAngel WiFi.

Instead of pushing users through the process of signing-up and signing-on, clicking through, or having to login, a different and creative approach is used here. By allowing users to jump online quickly and easily and then engaging them after the fact, getting survey questions answered, pushing video content, or asking if the user would like to upgrade their speed and service, becomes a way to not just engage, but interact with their users.

The demo that I was showed, and pictured above, performed an injection onto the websites I was using with a handy bar riding on the bottom of the screen that provided relevant information and the ability to upgrade service at the tap of a finger.

Through a series of "jets", modules designed to deliver content such as questions, videos, or advertisements, network operators can poll a user on their service 10 minutes after they have signed on, for example. This gives the establishment relevant and useful survey returns regarding service, food quality, experience, etc.

If the user is accessing a free tier of service, maybe a user is prompted to upgrade their conenctivity package after using the Wi-Fi for over 10 minutes. (Zebra pointed out that their new and upcoming integration with AirDefense would allow for traffic assessment and upgrade prompting based on user application type!)

Combined with the traditional user anayltics, engagement, demographic data, and other information gathered once the user opts-in, a play like this makes sense to me. Do away with the captive portal and on board the customer as quickly and effortlessly possible. Once they're online, they're probably more willing to answer a question to continue use, and if that question is relevant to their surroundings, "How has the service at our restaurant been?" 15 minutes after being seated, as an example, I see this as a great way to unobtrusively offer a service.


As one of the pioneers in the space of on-boarding users (have I said on-boarding enough yet?), I stopped by the Nomadix booth to get a rundown of their latest piece of equipment and learn more about yesterdays press release.

They were eager to show off the specs of the AG5900, supporting over 8,000 simultaneous and concurrent user sessions, an upgraded 1gbps copper port, and a handful of bandwidth management features. A boost in performance over the 5800 was needed with devices per person jumping from 1 to 3 since the 5800 was introduced, and it looks like the 5900 will handle this (and tens of thousands more with clustering.)

In addition to the beefed up gateway and great conversation, a slick was handed to me announcing a partnership with Exinda to bring Layer-7 Deep Packet Inspection to the Nomadix product family. I asked where this placed NITO and was quickly corrected that while NITO is traffic optimization, this device gives them the ability to inspect and control overall bandwidth flows, with bandwidth and application shaping and acceleration.

A trip by JMA

The Teko DAS platform by JMA was a highlight for me today. I spoke with the team there about the equipment while taking pics from every angle to document what I had seen.

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The DAS space has been a glacier in the bay of the wireless ocean for years now, with it only moving further stronger and with steadily more momentum . Throughout the last decade it has gone from non-existent to double-digit growth two years in a row and an ever growing market cap pushed by the demand for high-capacity systems. Through acquisition, the Teko DAS line is now part of the JMA Wireless family and the company has their sights set on bring as much capacity to the market as the can, with as small of a footproont as possible.

The 2 main takeaways I had were modularity for unlimited upgradeability via chassis and delivering all services, all carriers, via a single fiber.

By putting all of this gear in a single rack, including a real-time spectrum analyzer module, you would think management would be just as simple. Well, it looks like you're right. With the ability to single-pane the whole rack of gear, either via direct connection or web-interface, you have control to every aspect of the system with a medium you are intimately familiar with.

The high-powered remote units were smaller than I would imagine they would be, and being served by a single-fiber, supported everything you could throw at them without having to add cables, connections, or other interfaces.

A quick stop by the EnGenius booth got me an update on the handset that they are pushing to hospitality, as well as a refresher on their products, including the EnGenius Neutron Series Wall Plate. Capable of being supported and managed by their EZMaster product of embedded management, this addition to the well-heated race to the wallplate is a firm entry, even though it lacks 802.11ac.

Speaking of low-cost wired and wireless components, the Ubiquiti Networks booth was overstuffed with products on their tables.

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The thing I liked most in all of this to be honest, was the little sets of eyes all over their booth in the form of the UVC-Micro Camera.


In a unique conversation with the Chief Technologist of Xirrus, it wasn't as much about the hardware as it was about what it enabled. Instead of focusing our conversation on the new fixed radio product line or the capabilities of the new wall-plate addition to the product line (pictured below), we spoke about the future of wireless services and what you can do with them.

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As Xirrus has now moved the majority of it's management into the cloud with XCS, it has started to identify how it can enhance the Wi-Fi service with hooks into other cloud-based tools. This "Cloud-to-Cloud" communication via API hooks and calls, as well as the ability to springboard data and analytics is a different approach that I have heard vendors touting.  Instead of focusing on how Xirrus can do more with the data and the location anayltics, it seems to be making it easier to pass that data off to other cloud-based services to leverage and do amazing things with. By providing the conduit to this data and focusing on being as strong at the delivery component as possible, it seems to position Xirrus as focused more than ever on getting as many people online as possible. Now, this isn't the first shift in the industry to dump core services (look at the Ruckus move with vSCG/SCG to offload authentication) onto other components, however it is unique in that our conversation focused on cloud to cloud services. It's pretty encouraging to see a company try and step out of the way of the data and put the emphasis on how that data gets there in the first place.

BTW, we did talk briefly about EasyPass, which was introduced this week as well.

HP / Aruba Networks

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With great anticipation I made my way over to the Aruba booth to see how they were using BLE Beacons and Wi-Fi in this environment. I was greeted with a gentleman holding an iPad mini who was eager to walk me through every step of the process of the app (created with Meridian App Maker), it's interaction, the way it tracked and worked, and how effortless it all was. It was great to see a demo go flawlessly from start to finish, and it was encouraging to see a solution so well complimentary of each component that it performed as well, if not better than anticipated.

So many people and companies are working towards providing a combined solution of Wi-Fi and beaconing, while Aruba seems to be on the right track. From getting up and running quickly and easily to having the back-end to provide the management, it's a great solution.

It was mentioned that you could even control and manage down to the beacon level from the AP, which raised my eyebrows. "How?" I asked repeatedly until I got to the root of it: Plug in a BLE beacon into the USB port on the AP, and it will act as a root-node, if you will, to the other beacons, allowing you to manage them, over Bluetooth, over Wi-Fi.


I saved this write-up for last absolutely on purpose. After canvasing the show today and walking row-for-row through the exhibit hall, I was hard pressed to find the functionality, infrastructure, and overall matured capability that could stand close to Zebra.

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I'll admit, it is still difficult for me to say Zebra instead of Motorola, but I am going to try and break that terrible habit now.

With a bright red shirt and a firm commitment to the industry and product lines, I spoke with a circle of individuals today lead by Daran Hermans, the Senior Product Manager for their wireless lines. Out of the corner of my eye I could see that we were gathering a crowd and definitely getting some great information and answers to tough questions in addition to the attention. I didn't hold back (I rarely do), and at the end of it, I walked away thoroughly impressed.

I want to take a minute to talk about the commitment sentence above. While it may be tough for me personally to think about a printer company buying a wireless company, there was no hesitation from the Zebra crew about how awesome this was for the company. First, I was told repeatedly that the marketing was being doubled-down to support the product lines. Second, from AP to application, Zebra is integrating everything to support each other. With IoT coming on strong, especially in some of the key markets they play in (warehouses, grocery stores, hospitality, etc.) having the strongest solution they can take to market only makes their company that much more viable.

There was no shying away from where they were headed: full steam ahead. With rolling together AirDefense and Wing, providing the lowest power consuming 802.11ac wall-plate solution in the industry, and giving their customers a cohesive way to monitor and analyze both BLE and Wi-Fi analytics on one screen, Zebra is ready to leave their stripes on the market.

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Through the MPACT software we were able to see some pretty cool combined stats from their beacons and Wi-Fi analytics:

  • Over 3,400 unique booth visitors 
  • Over 5,500 impression counts
  • average booth time visit of 3:52
Not sure if they wanted me to share that, but hey, it was on the screen :)
Having that ability to track not just one or the other, but both, seems like where everything needs to be. 

What about management of BLE beacons like some of their competitors?
That too. By hijacking part of the beacon broadcast to the client application / device, it pushes a battery level up to the controller without the need to piggyback a beacon into a USB port on the AP.

Overall, it's great to see such passion, commitment and drive coming out of the Zebra camp. I was a fan of Symbol, a fan of Motorola when they matured the product lines, and now I am truly looking forward to seeing where this will go. From a business perspective, getting back to the core solution selling that made Symbol what it was is nostalgic and fantastic. That was one of the best models that catapulted Symbol's market share and I think Zebra has the ability to recapture that.

I'm really looking forward to tomorrow. There's still so much more at this show.
If you have any type of role in technology in the hospitality and you are not at this show, I would seriously make plans to attend next year. I hear the workshops are great, however, I've been nerding out on the exhibit floor the whole time :)

NOTE: I was given a complimentary press credential to this show after applying for one with HFTP, the producers of the show. They are not paying me to write any of this, nor have they or will they compensate me. I'm just honored to be chosen and happy to blog about how cool our industry is!

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for your honest and thorough feedback. While it may not appear manufacturers are listening, I can tell you emphatically they are... That's how I was directed to your page. Keep up the GREAT work and unbiased approach. At least one manufacturer is aware of this blog and actively pointing people to it.