Carrier WiFi

In the Air Tonight: Cisco & Facebook's WiFi Tie-Up

To really understand the significance of this week's Cisco and Facebook WiFi deal, it might be helpful to take a couple steps back from the news itself and take a wider view of this local area agreement.

The news is that Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) and Facebook have developed Connected Mobile Experiences (CMX) for Facebook WiFi. This allows users to sign onto WiFi networks at businesses that are part of the program simply by using their Facebook ID.

This, in itself, is nothing to sniff at. By inking the deal, Cisco has found a brute force way to enable a simple single sign on (SSO) for WiFi. Carriers and vendors have been talking SSO for years but you need a massive database of user IDs to really make it happen.

"There's not a much bigger database than Facebook," stated Jared Headley, Cisco's service provider mobility marketing senior director, during a phone interview Wednesday at Cisco.

But enabling SSO through Facebook is really the starting point for Cisco's wider ambitions for WiFi. As a few different Cisco people said to me at the launch event Wednesday evening, Cisco wants to become a major player -- in fact, might already be a major player -- in indoor location services.

The thinking is that Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) already has outdoor location wrapped up: It got in early with the GPS piece. Going indoors, however, where GPS signals can't get a lock on a user, could be Cisco's turf because of its large WiFi presence at service providers and enterprise locations.

We've already seen the company develop specific applications using the CMX platform for indoor location. The Facebook deal gives it much, much larger audience to play with.

This is helpful for Cisco and Facebook because user analytics is the other part of this puzzle. Obviously, once a company can locate you within a specific store in a large mall they can know more about your shopping habits than they might have before.

Cisco, however, isn't going to stop just with the WiFi piece. Headley says the company has the WiFi analytics engine talking to its core network now, at least in the lab. This means that company will be able to collate location data from the macro networks, small cells, and a wide variety of WiFi access points.

So, whazzat mean for me and you, gentle reader?

Well, it probably means that targeted ads will become much more, er, on target, probably in 12 months to two years' time, operator network testing willing. So, for instance, I shouldn't be getting any more of those ads offering sheer 34B push-up bras for a natural but eye-catching look any more.

A shame, really...

— Dan Jones, Mobile Editor, Light Reading

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DanJones 10/7/2013 | 9:37:36 AM
Re: Unwilling Target Well, look forward to more of it. The Twitter IPO docs say they will roll out more "targeted" ads in your Twitter stream.
Carol Wilson 10/6/2013 | 12:32:03 PM
Re: Unwilling Target I like using Facebook, but like Sarah, I'm increasingly annoyed by the ads and by the fact anything I look at online immediately shows up as ads on Facebook. Never help your adjult kid search for car insurance online -- right now I'd like to slap a certain gecko silly.

And, as Sarah said, an SSO is ideal, but using Facebook requires you to surrender access to your friends and your profile info, which I don't like. It's tempting to set up a second Facebook account, tied to a second gmail account to handle all the annoying stuff, but that's hardly an SSO. 

The security issues raised below are very real and make me even more unwilling to be sharing information via Facebook over a WiFi connection. 

DanJones 10/4/2013 | 6:57:43 PM
Re: The network encryption issue Interesting, I'll be sure to ask them about that. 
Vitesse Semiconductor 10/4/2013 | 6:19:23 PM
The network encryption issue If Cisco does indeed collate location data from the macro networks, small cells and WiFi access points, they will need to ensure the safety of this information. As most people know, cybersecurity is a growing concern. Small Cells, in particular, are vulnerable to security threats because they are often physically accessible to hackers. Operators worldwide have turned to IPsec to secure backhaul in their next-generation networks, but implementing IPsec for end-to-end security can be costly. If Cisco wants to secure the user data it is likely to collect, while also conserving expenses, they will need a complement or outright alternative to IPsec. Layer-2 encryption, or MACsec, can fulfill this need. To utilize Layer-2, Cisco will need a low-cost, scalable security encryption technology that enables MACsec across the entire network, and thus keeps users' private information from falling into the wrong hands.
pzernik 10/4/2013 | 4:51:02 PM
Re: Unwilling Target You mean my phone will be tracked.  I can leave that at home...no wait...yea I'm concerned.
DanJones 10/4/2013 | 4:05:39 PM
Re: Unwilling Target True enough. But privacy was long dead before this happened anyway. You should probably be at least as concerned about how accurately your movements will soon be tracked in the car park or shopping mall.
pzernik 10/4/2013 | 3:44:36 PM
Re: Unwilling Target Well Dan that's getting harder and harder to do (avoid FB).  I may eventually need a FB account to be able to log into WiFi or websites.  A 'one login' world is coming but that also means an end to privacy.
DanJones 10/4/2013 | 3:40:14 PM
Re: Unwilling Target I guess you could opt out by not using facebook, twitter or whatever.
pzernik 10/4/2013 | 2:46:13 PM
Re: Unwilling Target Hey, I don't want to be a "product!"  How much do I need to pay to opt-out?  Can I  join an anti-social media site or does that automatically put me on a No Fly list at the FAA?
Sarah Thomas 10/4/2013 | 1:29:56 PM
Re: Unwilling Target Did anyone catch Parks & Recreation last night?! It had a lot of great stuff related to the privacy debate...and social media. Ron Swanson is even more privacy sensitive than you, Carol.
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