Those of you in my age demographic might remember an old, cheesy game show called "The Dating Game" with an even cheesier host named Jim Lange. On the show, bachelors and bachelorettes answered totally pointless questions to measure their compatibility with one another. It was a TV game show version of Match.com, if you will.
However, sometimes it’s not just people that need help connecting to one another and finding the best match, it’s also devices. Ever try to hop on a wireless network and get frustrated because your device always seems to pick the wrong access point? It happens to me a fair bit. When I’m at Logan Airport, which is far too often, my MacBook always tries to connect to "Logan WiFi" instead of "United Club" when I’m in the Red Carpet Club, even though the signal quality of the United Club AP is clearly better. Even when I’m at home, my devices sometimes try to connect to my neighbor’s AP instead of the AirPort sitting under my desk, and I have to manually reconnect to the right AP. This can be annoying to tech-savvy workers, who are forced to continually pick the right AP, to downright productivity impairing for less technical folks who don’t feel comfortable changing settings or simply don’t know they’re connected to a sub-optimal AP.
This morning, Aruba announced its 802.11ac solution, with a new feature called "ClientMatch," which acts as Jim Lange and pairs the device up with the best possible wireless network. The problem of the "sticky" device (a device that does not connect nor stay connected to the best possible AP) has largely flown under the radar for years because Wi-Fi historically has been a network of convenience, not the primary network. Today, though, things have changed. The Wi-Fi network in many organizations is the primary network, and with organizations aggressively rolling out BYOD, the sticky client issue is a problem that will rapidly become a bigger issue as it results in slower speeds and unpredictable performance.
This can be particularly troubling in hospitals, universities or manufacturing plants where processes have been rebuilt with mobility in mind. Poor performance means the nurse receives patient alarms late or students can’t access a recorded video that is part of their classwork.
Aruba’s ClientMatch continually polls the network and ensures the device is connected to the best possible AP, which, in turn, yields the best possible user experience. The best point is determined by a combination of proximity as well as congestion, so it’s possible to be connected to an AP located further away that has less congestion, if that results in better throughput. ClientMatch may also change the AP a worker is connected to “on the fly” if, for some reason, the AP is about to get bogged down from your cube-mate watching Dating Game videos on YouTube.
The other part of the announcement was the launch of the 802.11ac APs. This version of Wi-Fi brings Gigabit speeds to wireless, so there’s finally speed parity when it comes to wired and wireless access. With the introduction of ac, there’s really no application, except maybe a few super bandwidth hogs, like Telepresence, where the experience isn’t the same wired or wireless. This includes the hard-charging Microsoft Lync as a mainstream unified communications application. There aren’t any corporate laptops or mobile devices with ac radios built in, so we’re not likely to see aggressive ac rollouts until the end of the year or even early next year when the devices catch up to the AP technology.
I liked the announcement of Aruba’s next-generation wireless because it focuses on more than just speed. More speed is great, but the ClientMatch technology will actually allow workers to enjoy the best wireless experience without having to continually fiddle with network settings.