Aruba embraces beacons for customized mobile experiences

How Aruba is using Wi-Fi and ad beacons to improve in-person customer experiences.

Earlier this week, Aruba Networks announced a "Mobile Engagement" platform that lets businesses create personalized mobile experiences. The product is targeted primarily to organizations that have a high number of in-person customers on a daily basis, such as stadiums, retailers, hotels, and hospitals. The venue owner can use Mobile Engagement to deliver customized services based on the customer’s location and profile.

The solution is powered by Aruba’s Wi-Fi portfolio, Meridian mobile application platform, and Aruba’s own line of beacons. The fact that Aruba is choosing to make its own beacons instead of partnering with one of the many beacon vendors may come as a bit of a surprise to some. Aruba believes that by building its own beacons, it can make them "corporate grade." That is to say they have consistent range and long battery life. Not all beacons are created equal, and things like battery life can be an issue, particularly for large venues like stadiums. Another benefit is that Aruba is able to manage the beacons centrally. Now beacons can be tuned, receive firmware upgrades, monitored, and even have a battery check done all from a central location. This can save hundreds of hours a year in an environment with hundreds of beacons. There are two flavors of the Aruba beacon: a traditional, standalone beacon that runs off battery, and a USB beacon that can plug into an Aruba AP.

The Meridian app software platform can be used to create mobile apps to better engage customers. Businesses can use Meridian to push relevant location information to customers. This could include turn-by-turn directions, information specific to the venue (bathrooms, customer service desks) or any kind of promotion that may be happening at that location. For those not familiar with components of the Meridian platform, it's a suite that includes an editor, application builder, mapping tool, SDK, and access to Aruba location services.

Levi's Stadium is a great example of a venue that's leveraging the Mobile Engagement platform. The stadium is the new home of the San Francisco 49ers and is one of the most technically advanced sports venues in the world. The football team, one of the preseason Super Bowl favorites, do not appear to have benefited from all the technology, but fans who attend games are treated to a state-of-the-art experience.

The network that powers Levi's was built on a combination of Brocade and Aruba infrastructure and is used to deliver a wide range of services to the fans. While at the stadium, fans can watch replays, receive precise turn-by-turn directions to their seat, bathrooms, or concession stands, and order food directly from their mobile devices. Maybe the network can help QB Colin Kaepernick read defenses and find an open receiver once in a while.

I believe that platforms like Mobile Engagement will forever change the in-store shopping experience and can possibly bring customers back into the stores instead of doing everything online. In-store customers can receive promotions to products the retailer knows are appealing (based on preferences) along with specific turn-by-turn directions so they can find the product easily. Then, once customers find these products, they can use the mobile device to get additional information. In many ways, it’s like having a personal shopper with the customer that keeps track of where items are, what mobile coupons the customer has, and what specials are in the store.  

One of the concerns customers may have with mobile applications is privacy. However, beacons do not gather or store any information, so privacy shouldn't be an issue. Also, customers have to "opt in" to applications that use beacons to collect and share data, so the privacy controls are in the hands of the customer, not the network owner.

Large, public-facing businesses are just starting to tinker with beacons and mobile applications to understand "what’s possible." By packaging beacons, a mobile application development platform, and a robust, secure wireless network, Aruba can be a one-stop shop to these venue-driven organizations.

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Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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