The Beacon

Social, local and mobile discovery in any environment

March 27, 2015 by Kelly Davis-Felner, Wi-Fi Alliance

This article originally ran in Light Reading

The mobile experience has traditionally been user-initiated. Whether it’s searching for the closest bus station or making a call to see if your friends are nearby, experiences have relied on a combination of Internet connectivity, GPS, and one-way beacons to enable consumers to actively search their local environment. 

This has always led to a somewhat one-dimensional user experience, and one that’s completely 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 your preferences and location. Your mobile device will actively discover your local environment without a connection—saving not only your 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 Wi-Fi® 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.  

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 that 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 be automatically connected to people in their immediate area when they choose to be. 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 impact 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 to the survival of his family, 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 helps 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 that 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 Wi-Fi’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 Wi-Fi network to accomplish the task at hand, such as opening a local restaurant’s website or texting a nearby colleague.

The opportunity for the next big thing

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 Wi-Fi Aware and it’s up to you to help develop what’s next.

The statements and opinions by each Wi-Fi Alliance member and those providing comments are theirs alone, and do not reflect the opinions or views of Wi-Fi Alliance or any other member. Wi-Fi Alliance is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information provided by any member in posting to or commenting on this blog. Concerns should be directed to info@wi-fi.org.

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Kelly Davis-Felner

Wi-Fi Alliance

Vice President, Marketing

Kelly Davis-Felner is Vice President of Marketing for Wi-Fi Alliance, where she oversees branding, communications, market development, program marketing, and public relations for the organization. In addition, she oversees Wi-Fi Alliance program management, including its certification operations. Kelly also holds responsibility for driving the development of Wi-Fi Alliance corporate strategy.

Kelly speaks worldwide about Wi-Fi's impact on applications, devices, and users. She is charged with promoting the technology and the Wi-Fi Alliance collaboration forum worldwide, and is one of its leading ambassadors, working with Wi-Fi Alliance's 600+ member companies.

Before joining Wi-Fi Alliance in 2004, Kelly enjoyed roles in consumer and business marketing, as well as in non-profit management. Kelly holds a BA in Communications from Loyola University of New Orleans, a Masters in Social Work from Tulane University, and an MBA from The University of Texas at Austin. She lives with her family in Austin, Texas.