Mist’s wireless network lets companies personalize the user experience

Mist Systems solves the problem of personalizing a user’s experience while they are connected to a wireless network and improves user engagement

Mist’s wireless network lets companies personalize the user experience
Credit: Adam Patrick Murray

The Wi-Fi networks of today were architected more than a decade ago. That even predates the iPhone, which ushered in the era of mobility. These old Wi-Fi architectures aren’t ready to handle the vast number of mobile devices that want to connect to wireless networks today.

What’s more, these networks aren’t able to put any focus on what users experience when they are connected.

The old generation of Wi-Fi networks are a hindrance to businesses that want to increase customer engagement over ubiquitous mobile devices. For example, restaurants and retail stores would like to capture customers’ attention by offering real-time discounts or coupons when customers enter or walk by the establishment. Doing so requires the use of several technologies that old wireless networks just can’t support at scale.

As we move into the era of digital engagement—one in which the mobile device becomes a concierge—a new generation of wireless network is needed. Mist Systems, a wireless networking company that was born in the era of mobile and cloud, has a solution to personalize a user’s experience over the network.

The three co-founders of Mist Systems have a strong Wi-Fi heritage, having worked on the previous two generations of Wi-Fi technologies and architectures. And now, by converging Wi-Fi and Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), the Mist executives say they are ushering in a new generation of wireless network. I recently spoke to Sujai Hajela, Mist Systems co-founder and CEO, to learn more.

“We are focused on converging Wi-Fi and BLE to create great mobile experiences for passengers at an airport, patients at a hospital, consumers at a retail store, employees at a workplace, guests at a hotel or an amusement park. The list goes on and on,” Hajela said. “Customer engagement has become a key mantra of a lot of enterprises. They are trying to understand or leverage the mobile device to engage with people coming into their enterprises or businesses. Our mission is to help them deliver personalized experiences.”

What does he mean by a personalized experience? Hajela offered a hospitality industry use case.

“Let’s say I walk into a hotel,” Hajela said. “As soon as I walk into the lobby, the hotel’s IT group has full view into what I experience on their network. Beyond that, if the hotel has a mobile application and I have it installed on my smartphone, the Mist system wakes up that mobile app. Let’s say I want to go to the closest restaurant. The app can guide me there and, along the way, the hotel can start serving me with focused digital coupons and offer to make reservations at the restaurant for me. The hotel can track whether or not I use its promotions so it can adjust its offers for the next time.”

Brick-and-mortar retail stores that are struggling to get foot traffic would love to be able to offer extremely personalized experiences like this. As people grow more dependent on their mobile devices for all types of services, they will come to expect more than just an in-store Wi-Fi connection where they can comparison shop and buy from another retailer.

BLE a key element of Mist’s wireless network

A key element of the Mist Systems wireless solution is BLE, which is derived from the Bluetooth communications standards.

“A BLE transmitter looks like a small, battery-operated hockey puck, and it sends a Bluetooth chirp, or message, to your phone,” Hajela explained. “As you are walking past one of these ‘hockey pucks,’ that message goes to your phone’s Bluetooth app. If you have an app that corresponds to a message, such as an ad for the retailer, our system will open up the app and display that message on your phone.”

BLE became popular when Apple endorsed it with iBeacon and Google endorsed it with Eddystone. Today, mobile operating systems, including iOS, Android, Windows Phone and BlackBerry, as well as macOS, Linux, Windows 8 and Windows 10, natively support BLE—making practically every mobile device a digital on-ramp that an enterprise can use to engage with someone digitally over the device.

Rather than using physical versions of the Bluetooth “hockey pucks,” which have to be placed every three or four meters to create an effective grid, Mist has virtualized the BLE transmitters in its network.

“You don’t put one physical beacon in the network to enable that experience,” according to Hajela. “It is all virtualized, and that is a patented technology we came out with on top of Wi-Fi plus BLE converged network.”

Mist networking architecture powered by AI

The Mist Systems networking architecture is powered by artificial intelligence (AI).

“We collect the control and management information from the device as someone connects onto one of our Wi-Fi networks. We do not collect any user-specific information,” Hajela said. “Next we analyze that information by our machine learning techniques, and we are learning the experience of users getting on a wireless network. Then through artificial intelligence, we gain an understanding of what’s going on and can optimize the Wi-Fi connectivity and location accuracy. We can get one to three meters of location accuracy without putting a single physical beacon within the network.”

Mist provides the Wi-Fi stack and the BLE stack on top of that. A user/guest just needs to connect onto a guest Wi-Fi network like they would today, and that is one point of engagement. The next level of a more personalized engagement, would typically be done through BLE and an app provided by the business. As always, the end user would opt in to get that app. When the person walks into the business, the Mist system wakes up the app to be able to interact with the user.

Mist can also produce heat maps based on the Wi-Fi or BLE signals within a business’ network. For example, an airport network can provide information to an administrator that an excessive number of people are gathering at the Customs line, which could indicate the need to open more lanes. A retail store can sense when lots of customers are gathered in one department so that additional sales reps can be dispatched to handle the crowd. Heat maps can also show trends over time, such as the busiest times of the day at the Customs and Immigration counters or how long people dwell at a checkout counter.

Overall, the Mist networking solution has three offerings. The first is the Wi-Fi stack, which comes with an SLA and provides IT with full visibility into the network. The second is location services using virtual BLE. And the third offering is a heat map of analytics. Together they enable digital customer engagement in a very personalized way. 

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