Mobile Communications

Mist CTO Bob Friday: 'Beacons are reaching critical mass'

Bob Friday’s role within wireless communications over the past 30 years has been nothing short of pivotal. He was chief scientist with metro-scale wireless pioneer Metricom (the Ricochet network), co-founder and chief scientist with enterprise Wi-Fi powerhouse Airespace (acquired by Cisco), vice president and CTO with Cisco, and now CTO and co-founder at Mist Systems.

Mist is also an enterprise-class Wi-Fi supplier, focusing on bringing the benefits of machine learning to contemporary Wi-Fi solutions, but Friday has been especially hard at work on inventing and bringing to market virtual BLE beacons.

Mist’s implementation builds virtual beacons directly into Wi-Fi access points, so the beacons themselves quite literally disappear into the plumbing.

We had two important questions for Friday in a recent phone conversation. The first of these involved the issue of calibration, which many BLE (and Wi-Fi) solutions require for improved accuracy.

+ MAIN STORY: Virtual beacons challenge Wi-Fi for in-building, location-based supremacy +

Friday told us that the Mist implementation is self-calibrating through an application of unsupervised machine learning. The process is relatively straightforward, with the Mist BLE eight-beam antenna array provisioning the accuracy of six to eight physical beacons.

Friday also noted that more beams per access point would increase location accuracy further, based on advances in antenna technology as opposed to simply increasing microprocessor performance – a more complex but still quite workable challenge.

The other question was a bit more blunt: since Mist is a Wi-Fi company as well, and since Wi-Fi is a de facto required element in most BLE location and tracking solutions, why use BLE, virtual or not, at all?

The answer was surprising: he believes that BLE will become the preferred technology because the client community – device and mobile OS vendors – has embraced the solution, and has largely ignored Wi-Fi positioning. While there are already a number of APIs and a broad range of hardware solutions available on the client side, Friday believes that a true BLE ecosystem is still gaining steam.

“Beacons are reaching critical mass in terms of being the preferred proximity/location technology in the next generation of mobile devices and applications,” he said. “BLE beacons are low cost, battery efficient, and easily deployed by leading organizations deploying the next generation of indoor mobile experiences. Wi-Fi has missed the opportunity to be the location technology of choice, and the momentum of BLE in the indoor location space is very hard to ignore.”

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