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WiFi Fuels the Social-Local-Mobile Movement

Kelly Davis-Felner
3/27/2015

The mobile experience is user-initiated. Whether it's searching for the closest bus station or making a call to see if friends are nearby, the experience relies on Internet connectivity, GPS and one-way beacons to enable people to actively search their local environment.

This makes the mobile experience basic, and reliant on network connectivity. But that's changing. We are starting to experience a shift in how we use our mobile devices. Moving forward, mobile devices will become a new type of tool -- one that suggests experiences based on the user's preferences and location. The mobile device will actively discover its local environment without a connection -- saving not only data and power supply, but also bringing opportunities to users in areas with intermittent connectivity.

To meet the need for devices to discover nearby experiences and services without an Internet connection, Wi-Fi Alliance members developed Wi-Fi Aware, a new capability of WiFi that operates continuously in the background of a device, enabling service discovery among a wide range of applications. Devices will discover each other before connecting, enabling applications such as gaming, peer-to-peer messaging and media sharing, as well as enabling location-specific services such as proximity assessment, contextual notifications and offers. (See What's Up With WiFi?)

What Wi-Fi Aware means for consumers
The opportunities for consumers are wide-ranging, from a mobile gamer who enjoys the thrill of playing against nearby competitors to the professional who wants to find his colleagues or new connections with shared interests at a crowded conference.

Take the mobile gamer: With this type of technology, they could load the latest game, enter profile information and automatically connect to people in their immediate area when they choose to be connected. With the swipe of the screen, they set the app to notify them when a match is found nearby, at which point a message will offer them the option of starting a game, chatting, exchanging in-game content or ignoring the notification completely -- all of this before ever connecting to a network.

This technology will also play a part in professional environments, such as at conferences or tradeshows, where colleagues may need to find each other in event centers. Integration in a business networking application such as LinkedIn could allow users to receive alerts if their connections are within certain proximity.

Another area this technology can make a difference is in developing economies where smartphones are rapidly taking hold, yet the infrastructure to support them is only slowly catching up.

A case in point would be a fisherman off the coast of Ghana who catches and sells fish every day to sustain himself and his family. Selling his catch is critical, but with so many others jockeying for the same buyers, how does the fisherman stand out and drive customers to his storefront?

With Wi-Fi Aware, our fisherman could advertise his catch from his mobile phone, announce to surrounding device users what he has to offer, negotiate pricing and organize delivery schedules. With no extra steps, users who have previously configured their device to discover such peer-to-peer messages will be aware of the fisherman's product and location in order to take steps to purchase accordingly.

Proximity-based discovery technologies such as Wi-Fi Aware present a diverse amount of opportunities for consumers, but they also help tackle a key issue service providers have always faced: congested networks.

The opportunity for service providers
Mobile communication is rapidly growing and quickly overshadowing traditional methods of connectivity. Because of this, we are experiencing a wave of data-hungry consumers who expect their connections to be fast and reliable. Networks today can't always handle the amount of traffic they are experiencing, and because of this, omni-connectivity is critical. In other words, devices need to be able to connect to the Internet and each other at any time, without congestion getting in the way.

Wi-Fi Aware, by enabling devices to discover each other and available services before making a connection, takes advantage of WiFi's ubiquity in devices -- delivering social and local experiences without clogging their service provider's network. Once the discovery is made, the user can then connect to their preferred WiFi network to accomplish the task at hand, such as opening a local restaurant's website or texting a nearby colleague.

Proximity-based discovery is the backbone of some of the most innovative applications of today, from car sharing to delivery service applications. But mobile is a constantly evolving landscape and new technology can be relied upon to continue to advance and make the most of the mobile connectivity that is rapidly pervading most aspects of lives across the globe.

Wi-Fi Aware technology is the next step for proximity-based technology and will be the basis of what powers the next generation of "killer apps." We have only begun to imagine the potential uses of WiFi.

— Kelly Davis-Felner, VP of Marketing, Wi-Fi Alliance

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pcharles09
pcharles09
3/30/2015 | 7:48:09 PM
Re: Many directions of uses
@Kelly,

One more advance towards wifi-everything. I imagine a time when there's no cords for any devices, regardless of power consumption.
Kelly Davis-Felner
Kelly Davis-Felner
3/30/2015 | 6:09:47 PM
Re: Many directions of uses

Wi-Fi Aware was designed to be very power efficient—so you don't have to worry about it draining your battery. Power efficiency is improved because Wi-Fi Aware devices establish and maintain a common "heartbeat" among Wi-Fi devices in range. This enables devices to have a common cadence of wake-up and sleep, so continuous discovery can occur without putting undue burden on the battery of a mobile device.

Kelly Davis-Felner
Kelly Davis-Felner
3/30/2015 | 6:08:23 PM
Re: Many directions of uses

The use case of the stadium technology is a great example of how this technology will help users be more efficient. Thank you for your comment.

kq4ym
kq4ym
3/30/2015 | 2:05:54 PM
Re: Many directions of uses
I've noticed some recent news stories advocating turning off wifi location in apps for better privacy and eliminating the wholesale selling of one's location data to third parties. It will be interesting to see if newer technologies can give users privacy but still allow for location based services and social interactions voluntarily.
Mitch Wagner
Mitch Wagner
3/30/2015 | 1:35:20 PM
Social-mobile-locavore
"Discovering nearby experiences and services without an internet connection" sounds like a dog-whistle for "pushing ads at consumers that they don't really want." Carriers would be well-advised to watch out for taking marketing dollars from retailers that will only serve to alienate subscribers.

On the other hand, there are boundaries to this kind of thing and anything inside the boundary is fair game. As blogger John Battelle pointed out: If I'm walking past The Gap, I'm going to think I'm getting spammed if I get a push notification that shirts are on sale. But INSIDE The Gap, that's welcome information to the consumer.

The mobile gaming app at first seemed frivolous to me. But we live in a time of social isolation -- anything that gets people connecting with each other in the real world is a benefit.

The peer-to-peer connectivity seems like it would be resistant to both natural disasters and government overreach.

Is that Ghana fisherman example based on actual experience in developing economies, or is it back-of-the-envelope speculation from someone without real-world experience in the developing world?
Mitch Wagner
Mitch Wagner
3/30/2015 | 1:34:16 PM
Re: Many directions of uses
I remember hearing a proposal in 2000 for a business to arrange food and beverage delivery to stadium seating, and also people waiting at airport gates. Maybe an idea whose time has come?
danielcawrey
danielcawrey
3/30/2015 | 1:28:35 PM
Re: Many directions of uses
This seems like a really cool idea. One of my concerns with something like this, however, is the fact that this would probably require a lot of battery power. And there could be some issues with security/privact if data is being projected out to other devices.

Anyone else share these same concerns?
Phil_Britt
Phil_Britt
3/30/2015 | 8:43:43 AM
Re: Many directions of uses
SachinEE,

Arranging for a beer delivery is likely closer than you think. It wasn't that many years ago that a few sports venues first rolled out Wi-Fi notifications from order takers in some of the more expensive seats (personally, I am usually in "Uecker seats") to the concession area to get quicker service. Now that is relatively common place. The next progression would be self-service ordering. 
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