November 15, 2012, 8:01 AM — Cisco Systems and Qualcomm are putting their considerable wireless weight behind a system to make it easier for retail stores and other venues to offer information to visitors over Wi-Fi.
Many shops, airports and other locations have Wi-Fi networks that can help their customers get on the Internet, but they aren't getting as many people as possible onto Wi-Fi or getting all the value they could out of the networks, according to Cisco. For example, the company envisions brick-and-mortar stores offering the kinds of personalized deals and recommendations that help to power the shopping experience at online stores such as Amazon.com.
On Thursday, Cisco is announcing a variety of new capabilities to make such Wi-Fi networks both more accessible and more interesting to both consumers and venue owners. The new offerings come with the latest version of Cisco's Mobility Services Engine (MSE) software, with additions from the recent acquisition of ThinkSmart Technologies, and with the partnership with mobile chip giant Qualcomm.
The deal with Qualcomm could produce the component of Thursday's news that most consumers will notice. The companies want to make it possible for Wi-Fi network owners to deliver locally relevant information to consumers' smartphones even before they log on to a nearby network. Included in that information would be options such as joining the wireless LAN or downloading the store's app, but the basic information would pop up without the user having to do anything.
Firmware in Snapdragon S4
Cisco has included firmware in Qualcomm's Snapdragon S4 chipset, which is destined for smartphones already due to come out over the next few months, that will make the chipset talk to Cisco wireless LANs equipped with the new MSE software.
"The chip has this local service discovery, which gets ignited in the presence of a Cisco network," said Sujai Hajela, vice president and general manager of Cisco's Wireless Networking Business Unit. It delivers an alert in the form of a blinking arrow on the top of the phone's home screen, which appears whether the user has joined the Wi-Fi network or not.
"The local service discovery is basically detecting a Wi-Fi radio, and it is just giving you an invitation. It's up to you whether you want to do anything with it or not," Hajela said. Users will also be able to turn off the local service discovery feature on their phones.
The Fernbank Museum of Natural History, in Atlanta, plans to adopt this feature next year. The blinking icon on visitors' phones there will offer a list of information such as locations of restrooms and other features in the museum, a listing of showtimes at its affiliated Imax theater, and a link to download the free, interactive visitor-guide app.