Aruba Networks had a few interesting announcements recently at Mobile World Congress 2013 and the first one shows how WiFi can be used as a differentiator and driver of retail traffic. In a deployment with NTT Broadband Platform or NTTBP the companies proudly unveiled the fact they are deploying a joint WIFi solution named Wi-Fi Cloud Services and its being deployed at over 10,000 Seven-Eleven locations as well as other retail locations owned by the mutual parent company in Japan.
This is important because the service includes an offering to consumers which allows them to come to the stores and download and stream music and other content. In this way the WiFi network supports a marketing initiative which makes the stores in-effect more "sticky."
As the content is the "hook" so to speak, it is imperative the quality of the network is up to par. In other words if a dozen people jump on this carrier-agnostic network and initiate applications or services which demand large amounts of bandwidth, there is the potential for the quality of the promoted content to suffer.
As Ben Gibson (pictured), CMO explained to me - this is where the 7200 Mobility Controller comes in. The granular access policy management based on user, device, application and location means the system can determine which traffic is of high value and needs QoS. Other traffic unrelated to the offer can connect directly to the Internet and be handled in a best-effort manner.
Moreover, he touted Aruba Activate - the company's solution which allows access points to auto-configure without the need for manual intervention.
Other news the company broke at the show had to do once again with the 7200 (pictured) - this time its ability to provide managed services and cellular offload. The company in its news release touted its solution as 40 times lower in capital cost, 14 times lower in power consumption and one-third the rack space of "competitive offerings" which is typically the code phrase for Cisco.
He further explained Aruba's HybridControl WiFi architecture allows a carrier to support more than 32,000 WiFi hotspots with a single controller.
What is interesting to me is the way QoS-enabled WiFi is being used as a marketing tool to drive traffic to brick and mortar stores. We know Starbucks was a pioneer in providing free WiFi but when a cup of coffee you sell can cost more than five times more than the competition, its easy to justify the price of free broadband.
For other retail stores we may start to see more promotional services possibly in combination with record companies, artists, movie studies and television content creators. The point is, WiFi may go from being an afterthought in retail to a strategic asset which drives micro-communities of real breathing human beings who purchase products at a cash register.
Technology has disrupted traditional retail allowing consumers to buy via apps and browsers... Perhaps now it will like a boomerang be utilized broadly to get those same consumers more interested in not only visiting but spending time in malls, convenience stores and other non-virtual locations.