Aruba Airheads: Generation mobile forces Wi-Fi rethink

Aruba Networks tells customers to rethink their Wi-Fi deployments to meet the expectations of a cohort of workers called GenMobile

At its annual [email protected] EMEA Atmosphere conference on the shores of Italy's Lake Maggiore, Aruba Networks expanded on its vision for the future of wireless networking, and encouraged its customers to evolve and adapt their businesses to account for the growth of concepts such as mobile-defined networking and a new breed of user that Aruba refers to as Generation Mobile, or GenMobile.

Aruba self-defined the GenMobile concept earlier this year. It is described as a group of people not defined by age parameters but by their preference for multiple devices and non-traditional working hours and locations. Aruba believes this generation will reshape the workplace in the coming years.

In his keynote at Airheads, Aruba CEO Dominic Orr spoke about the ‘third place’, an area he defined as neither home nor business, but where work is still done.

“Traditionally, the third place was dead space for data communications and computer networking, but you are finding you do a lot more work in the third place,” he said. “You find your working life now is divided not into one-hour segments, but 15 to 20-second segments. This is creating dramatic stress on the infrastructure needed to support that environment.”

Aruba's mobile-defined network solution – which it claims “transforms enterprise networks into intelligent systems” – consists of a next-generation mobility firewall that uses advanced deep packet inspection to provide more granular policies, service quality and control; a newly-launched interactive unified communications dashboard for visualising and controlling UC apps, such as Microsoft Lync, over Wi-Fi; security workflow product ClearPass Exchange; automated sign-on software for apps such as Salesforce; and AirGroup, a screen and media-sharing service.

Aruba founder and CTO Keerti Melkote said: “Mobility-defined networks enable IT departments to build intelligent and self-optimising infrastructures where security actions are automated, performance is enhanced, and efficient workflows adapt to the dynamics of mobility.

“The resulting right-sized network reduces capital costs associated with the fixed, wired infrastructure and delivers an integrated mobility experience that everyone can depend on.”

‘Third place’ customers evolve Wi-Fi deployments

Aruba customers such as Heathrow Airport and Plymouth Hospitals NHS Trust have already bought into this concept, both being good examples of the kind of ‘third place’ defined by Orr and beloved by GenMobile.

Plymouth Hospitals NHS Trust head of IT service development and business support, Rob Harder, said: “Wireless is a given now, both at home and at work. That nobody mentions our Aruba network is a good sign. It’s like electricity – it’s part of the infrastructure.”

The Trust has been an Aruba customer since 2008, and originally chose Aruba because its hardware could handle the requirements of the Trust's large, complex and architecturally distinct campus.

But in the past six years, the Trust’s wireless requirements have grown exponentially, said Harder.

“More users, not just staff but patients and visitors, are demanding access, so we have had to change and adapt,” he said.

In 2008, Wi-Fi was a nice to have and accepted as a premium product. By 2013, it was expected to be there as a basic service network

Dave Draffin, Heathrow Airport

Harder’s team revisited the deployment recently when the local NHS community health organisation also started asking for Wi-Fi to support mobile district nurses and health visitors with a tablet solution. It has now deployed Aruba’s Via to enable seamless roaming from Wi-Fi onto 3G and 4G networks.

The Trust is also exploring further extensions to its wider IT infrastructure based on its Aruba deployment, and is exploring a pilot of Windows 8 tablets and a review of Android and iOS devices with a view to implementing a BYOD policy.

Heathrow Airport’s innovation architect, Dave Draffin, installed the airport’s first Wi-Fi network seven years ago, but found that customer satisfaction with the paid-for product, delivered through Boingo, was falling year-on-year to a point where “Heathrow was regarded as second-worst in Europe in terms of Wi-Fi satisfaction.”

“We came up with two main reasons why,” said Draffin. “As traffic levels changed and consumerisation caused a surge in usage, the infrastructure was starting to become constrained.  Secondly, there was a change in perception. In 2008, Wi-Fi was a nice to have and accepted as a premium product. By 2013, it was expected to be there as a basic service network.”

Heathrow completed a major upgrade project with Aruba last year that has seen it offer free wireless networking to passengers for the first time, all delivered over the same network that the back-end functions of the airport – baggage handling, retail and hospitality tenants, and so on – use for their day-to-day work.

Elsewhere in the aviation sector, aircraft maintenance, repair and overhaul specialist Lufthansa Technik is currently exploring the deployment of Aruba 802.11ac Gigabit wireless technology on its parent, Lufthansa’s, fleet with the intention of enabling passenger Wi-Fi that is less expensive and more user-friendly than solutions such as satellite – which is being explored by competitors such as BA.

Lufthansa Technik’s director of innovation, Andrew Muirhead, said in-flight internet had focused on applications such as email and the web, and this was why take-up had been limited, because external connectivity is a perennial problem at 39,000ft.

“We needed to distinguish between in-flight Wi-Fi solutions without connectivity, and connectivity-based solutions,” he said. “Even with limited connectivity, or perhaps with no connectivity at all, there are lots of ways to provide services to passengers.”

One potential application of the technology that Lufthansa is exploring is to take offline content, such as printed safety cards or menus, online and offer content that is currently provided on seatback screens – such as movies, music, news and the in-flight map service – on passenger devices. Benefits for the airline include reduced printing and distribution costs, and lighter planes, which save fuel.

Lufthansa Technik acknowledged that it would probably never be able to do away with long-haul seatback screens because not every passenger would carry a device or want to watch a two-hour movie on it, but the applications for short-haul flights were quite different.

“The installation of Wi-Fi is less complex and lighter than built-in screens, which reduces the investment for the airline and might open up possibilities for retail service on board,” said Muirhead. “On short-haul, it will change from pure entertainment to value-added services.”

Whether or not Aruba customers will buy into the marketing-driven concept of GenMobile, the demands that end users place on Wi-Fi networks are growing massively and will continue to do so. The lessons learned from public sector and ‘third place’ experience could force a rethink in the wider enterprise sector. After all, the evolution forced by mobile workers is already in progress and its effects will be far-ranging.

Read more on Wireless networking