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