• United States
Senior Editor

Wireless upgrades from Cisco, Aruba, Juniper aim at helping businesses reopen safely

News Analysis
Jun 01, 20206 mins
MobileNetworkingSmall and Medium Business

Contact tracing, temperature checking and overcrowding will be monitorable with new and enhanced features of wireless networks.

wifi connect wireless
Credit: Getty Images

Cisco, Aruba and Juniper are unwrapping new applications and services aimed at helping organizations safely re-open their facilities when due to the COVID-19 pandemic permits.

In Cisco’s case, the company is adding applications to its DNA Spaces mobile location services platform that uses WiFi analytics to let customers see how spaces are being used in real-time.  The idea, Cisco says, is to let customers measure how many people are in a space at the same time and use that real-time data to close off buildings when they reach capacity. By being able to look at trends over time, facility managers can make smarter decisions on how to arrange offices and set appropriate cleaning schedules, Cisco says.

DNA Spaces is comprised of Cisco’s Connected Mobile Experience (CMX) wireless suite and enterprise geolocation technology purchased from July Systems in 2018. Cisco CMX is a software engine that analyzes location and other intelligence gleaned from Cisco wireless infrastructure to help deliver services to customers on their mobile devices. July technology included an enterprise-grade location platform which includes instant customer activation, data-driven behavioral insights, a contextual rules engine and APIs. The package supports any Catalyst, Aironet, or Meraki wireless access points.

DNA Spaces also provides businesses with analytics about who and what are in their physical locations along with the ability to act on those insights in real-time, Cisco said.

The platform works with multiple technologies such as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth Beacons or GPS to sense the user’s device with or without an app installed.

With DNA Spaces customers will be able to see not just which spaces like department stores, waiting rooms, cafeterias are being used and when, but also where people come from to get to those rooms, how long they stay in them, what data resources they use and where they go after they leave, Cisco says.

“The key data we can watch is how behavior changes as we allow more people back into the office over the weeks and months of a return-to-office program. In particular, we can determine if there is an occupancy load at which people start to cluster, breaking distance guidelines,” wrote Scott Harrell, senior vice president and general manager of Cisco’s Intent-based Networking Group in a blog.  “If and when this happens, a company can work on reconfiguring hot-spot locations, educating employees, dialing back the number of people allowed into the office, or a combination of mitigations.”

Cisco has added a service it calls DNA Spaces Right Now that tracks new devices that enter a space when they connect to Wi-Fi.  By tracking which access points are able to electronically “see” them, it can tell which part of the building they are in, Harrell stated.

In comparison, data from access-card badge-in records can tell how many people enter a building and when, but that doesn’t tell which parts of a building people use or when they leave, Harrell stated.   “With Wi-Fi, we can gather much more robust data that tracks how people use, move, and occupy spaces throughout the day.”

Cisco has also added an indoor IoT Sensor-as-a-Service that lets customers manage Bluetooth enabled IoT devices such as asset trackers for identifying, inventorying, onboarding, grouping, and applying policy-based configurations to those devices. 

Harrell said customers can use DNA Spaces Impact Analysis app to determine how buildings and campuses are being used, not just how much they are being used. The application generates reports on time spent in the office, building utilization, and other metrics that could inform how workplaces might be reconfigured to reduce risk.

“We think these tools will be especially important for buildings that are used by visitors and guests, like stores and schools,” Harrell stated.

Harrell said Cisco is looking to add other capabilities to track whose devices they are moving around a given space. “This more granular data would let employers contact specific employees and inform them of potential COVID-19 exposure, if necessary,” Harrell stated. “Such  features will always be optional, and data collected in a company’s private network will always belong solely to the company that owns the network and DNA Spaces currently does not offer contact tracing to tell precisely who is near whom,” he stated.

Other networking vendors are looking at contact-tracing features in addition to looking for ways to ease the return of employees to the workplace. 

For example, Aruba says it will release a new set of native contact- and location-tracing tools for Aruba infrastructure customers using Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. 

The company’s third party ecosphere – including AiRISTA Flow, CXApp, Kiana Analytics, Modo Labs, and Skyfii – will deliver a variety of Aruba-based social-distancing and group-size management applications.

Others such as such as Envoy, will offer pre-registration, automated host notification, and auto-generated visitor Wi-Fi credentials, all with zero human-to-human contact, the company stated.

Aruba’s technology partners are also looking to offer contactless thermographic solutions that measure forehead temperature of groups of people simultaneously. The offerings incorporate automated voice response and interfaces with access-control portals, Aruba stated.

“The office will become increasingly smart using Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, IoT sensors, and other capabilities that were invested in during the COVID-19 reopening phase, but then may be repurposed to provide employee experience-enhancing applications, as well as security and crisis capabilities, should any type of health or other emergency resurface,” Aruba stated.

Juniper Mist

Meanwhile, Juniper’s Mist company is also looking to ease workplace safety in the COVID-19 environment. 

The company said it will offer a number of new features for its Mist access points and cloud services in conjunction with Wi-Fi- and/or Bluetooth low energy-enabled devices such as phones and badges. For example it will enable proximity tracing that lets enterprises identify and notify other employees, guests or customers that may have been in close proximity to a person who has identified as Covid-19 positive onsite.  

The company will also offer a journey-mapping feature that can identify high-traffic hot zones so customers can reconfigure workspaces and deploy additional cleaning efforts to lower health risks, Juniper stated.  

“By looking at the quantity of devices and locations in specific areas, enterprises can disperse or divert traffic away from congested areas with real-time, location-based alerting. They can also view trends over time to identify certain areas for proactive measures,” Juniper stated.