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