Part of a wide-ranging announcement heralding “version 2.0” or Aruba’s “mobile engagement” platform, the new beacon sensor — a $195 plug-into-the-wall device that can monitor and manage up to 10 nearby beacons — enables networks using any vendor’s Wi-Fi gear to utilize Aruba’s proven beacon software systems, which include the ability to support wayfinding apps. Prior to today’s announcement, only Aruba-based Wi-Fi networks could closely integrate with the Aruba beacon-based apps, a factor that limited market potential for Aruba’s beacon efforts. The new beacon sensors, Aruba said, also allow for cloud-based management of beacon deployments, which could save huge amounts of time by eliminating the need to physically visit or monitor each beacon in a network.
With the ability now to reach out to non-Aruba Wi-Fi customers, the former Aruba Networks — now formally known as “Aruba, a Hewlett Packard enterprise company” — also expanded its app developer partner program to target several different vertical markets where beacons might find a welcome home, like health care and retail/office situations. VenueNext, the developer of the Levi’s Stadium app — perhaps the poster child deployment of Aruba’s beacon offerings — is now a formal partner with Aruba, which may help VenueNext in its goal of bringing Levi’s Stadium app features like wayfinding maps to other stadiums, including those without Aruba-based Wi-Fi networks.
Bringing beacon management to other networks
Jeff Hardison, director of product marketing for mobile engagement at Aruba, said the beacon sensor came out of internal questioning about how Aruba could help make beacons more mainstream, “and more useful.”
The solution is a small box, not much bigger than a beacon, which has inside both Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) and Wi-Fi radios, allowing it to connect both to nearby beacons via Bluetooth and to Wi-Fi access points — importantly, Wi-Fi access points from any vendor. The devices, available for ordering today for $195 each, plug into standard electrical outlets and can manage about 9 to 10 beacons each, Hardison said, depending on proximity.
For VenueNext, the sensor could help the company more easily bring its beacon-based app features to stadiums and venues that don’t have Aruba Wi-Fi networks like Levi’s Stadium. Earlier this year, VenueNext had said it would announce 30 new venues using its apps by the end of the year, but so far it has identified only three new customers, the Orlando Magic, the New York Yankees and the Dallas Cowboys. The Cowboys, in particular, have a Cisco Wi-Fi network in AT&T Stadium, so it remains to be seen if Aruba beacon sensors will be used there to integrate the wayfinding feature in the AT&T Stadium app.Along with the sensors, with Aruba’s new beacon and sensor management system administrators can also manage beacons remotely, cutting down the time needed to visit each beacon in person to check battery life, software updates or other settings. As beacon deployments start to climb into the thousands per network, such remote management could be a huge time-saver, Hardison said. The beacon management system can also be used with the sensors in non-Aruba Wi-Fi deployments, Aruba said.
On beyond stadiums to libraries, hospitals, airports and more
While the Levi’s Stadium app’s wayfinding feature — which allows San Francisco 49ers fans to follow themselves as a blue dot walking through a map of the venue — is perhaps the most well-known Aruba beacon app, the Meridian platform (obtained by Aruba in a 2013 purchase of indoor Wi-Fi location company Meridian) is also being used to manage beacons at the Orlando International Airport, and is being trialed at the University of Oklahoma’s libraries, according to Aruba.
New software partners in the Aruba mobile engagement stable include Robin, which has a meeting room booking application, and companies with apps to help with navigation in hospitals and schools. The Meridian/Aruba beacon system was also previously used in apps at the Nebraska Furniture Mart and the American Museum of Natural History.