Mobility solution with WLAN and location-based services for outlet centers
WiFi gives physical shops added value
The IT industry association Bitkom has noted a particularly important expectation, as it reports that functioning WiFi in shops is the most common request on consumer wish lists. As only 70 percent of shops offer customers a WiFi connection, this desire remains unmet far too often. Rapid equipping is thus vital. Particularly since functioning WiFi forms the basis for other services which, according to Bitkom, also create the perfect shopping experience for consumers. These include navigation apps that guide consumers to the products they are looking for, product information via tablets, smartphones or QR codes, individual special offers made via an app as well as the provision of real-time information about stock levels in the shop.
All these wishes will soon be fulfilled for customers at one of the largest outlet centres in Europe at least. With almost 500 access points from the manufacturer Mist Systems, aeroaccess is implementing a completely new, modern mobility solution that covers the entire centre. It provides WiFi access in more than 100 shops, as well as in all the catering establishments and hotels, the park-like open spaces, and the connecting routes between the shops and the indoor car parks – of course with seamless roaming transitions between the indoor and outdoor areas.
Location based services with Virtual Bluetooth LE
All the installed access points also support the Virtual Bluetooth LE technology patented by Mist Systems (see Virtual Bluetooth LE). This allows location based services with software control to be implemented – without the need for any additional, battery-operated hardware. As location based services can also be made available in the immediate vicinity, retailers can, for example, send push notifications with attractive offers and information to people strolling close to their shops, in a more precise and reactive way than was possible with the previous hardware beacons. In addition, location based services provide the basis for optimising shops in a number of ways: the brands can, among other things, analyse the routes taken by customers and adjust the setups accordingly based on this.
The outlet owner combines these and many other services into a package that the brand worlds can make use of like a modular system. In order to be able to offer the more than four million annual customers of the outlet centre a holistic, smart shopping experience, the outlet owner combines all the mobility offers from the shops in a single app, which is made available for visitors to download free of charge. Thanks to the centralised app, the owner can control the interactions and prevent visitors receiving an uncontrolled bombardment of messages.
The app developers make good use of the Mist Systems mobility solution's cloud based platform. This not only ensures easy implementation and provision of location based services, but also enables access to the data required for the app via an integrated API.
WiFi in indoor car parks a challenge
A considerable challenge when setting up the mobility solution was ensuring coverage in the car parks, as implementation of full WiFi coverage in them is anything but trivial. The reinforced concrete used to build the car parks, the built-in ventilation and sprinkler systems, the low ceiling height and the parked vehicles with their ever taller and larger shapes all have high shielding potential regarding electromagnetic waves. Just using simple propagation models for the wireless signals in free space and the radiation characteristics of the access points is not an approach that will bring success.
Thanks to their experience from previous underground car park projects, the aeroaccess engineers are fully aware of the possible pitfalls with such a task. They therefore use elaborate models that reflect the actual shape of the construction and the distribution of vehicles on the floors of the car park in the planning software. This allows the optimal locations for the access points to be determined so that customers can enjoy uninterrupted WiFi coverage when walking and driving in such areas. During the planning, the engineers also take the asymmetry of the wireless connections into account. Even if an access point can work from A to B, this does not necessarily mean that the WiFi signals from a smartphone antenna can also easily bridge the gap in the opposite direction, from B to A. In addition to the properties of the access points, the end devices of the users must therefore also be included in the planning. This extra effort clearly pays off in the end.
Individual planning of the shop WiFi
The aeroaccess employees plan the WiFi coverage for the other areas of the outlet centre with the same level of meticulousness. They take into account the respective structural conditions in the shops as well, including the interior design, and feed this information into the planning software. The value of this work becomes apparent in two ways. Firstly, thanks to the preparation, the on-site installation can be carried out very quickly and largely unnoticed by shop visitors. Secondly, the shop owners obtain top quality wireless coverage. It is no coincidence that some shopkeepers have switched off their existing WiFi and moved to the aeroaccess infrastructure immediately.
Wherever possible, aeroaccess accomodates special requests during installation. As, in order to ensure optimal WiFi provision, the access points cannot always be hidden behind ceiling panels, aeroaccess can adapt the colour of the access points on request, so that they can be inconspicuously integrated into the design of the respective branding. A special foil, which does not negatively affect the signal properties, is used for this. Signalling LEDs on the access points are also reprogrammed so that they do not disturb the shop's ambience with their flashing lights.
Technology Spotlight Virtual Bluetooth LE
Mist Systems integrates Bluetooth LE into its WiFi access points, thereby making dedicated physical beacons superfluous for location based services. Each access point has a 16-antenna array on board. With the patented virtual Bluetooth LE technology (vBLE), it is possible to configure virtual beacons that provide coverage in an entire area using software control and just a few mouse clicks or via an API. Machine learning that anonymously processes the data that is continuously collected by Mist from all mobile devices in the area of interest makes manual configuration unnecessary. This forms the basis for an optimally configured, scalable solution for the provision of location based services with minimal investment costs. For locations where no access point is required, the virtual Bluetooth LE technology can also be used via an inexpensive stand-alone beacon without batteries.
AI ensures reliability
The cloud platform from the manufacturer Mist Systems ensures a high level of reliability in everyday operation. Any errors that occur can be eliminated thanks to the artificial intelligence (AI) of the integrated network monitoring and analysis software. The AI engine even understands inputs in natural language and thus gives even laypeople without programming knowledge quick and easily understandable insights into the system performance. As a partner with many years of experience, aeroaccess can also carry out in-depth analysis remotely if needed. This makes it possible to quickly rectify any errors and identify and mitigate any anomalies at an early stage before they affect operations.
Cloud platform ensures flexibility
The current expansion plan for the outlet centre's WiFi provides for the installation of almost 500 access points. It will most likely not stay that way though, because of the expected further growth of the outlet centre. And that is no problem, because of the flexible cloud-based approach. The system can easily be scaled up. This guarantees that the mobility solution is future-proof – in terms of both the hardware equipment and the range of services available to shop owners and customers.
aeroaccess was founded in 2008 as a medium-sized system developer with the aim of providing
users with mobile indoor and outdoor communication solutions, locally and worldwide. As a result of
specialising in new and future-oriented technologies, customers are increasingly requesting full-service
models from us. We meet these needs with the services in our portfolio, which range from planning to
global logistics, implementation and management, as well as on-site maintenance and operation, as
a solution provider or a leasing partner. In total, aeroaccess currently makes it possible for more than
300,000 users in over 170 countries to work with mobile solutions.
With the move to Munich/Unterföhring, work with the next generation of mobile solutions has now been
initiated. This work involves an increased emphasis on comprehensive end applications, in order to be
able to offer customers on both the user and operator levels extended wireless functionality. Artificial
intelligence and open APIs reduce downtime and the need for manual input.
Further information: www.aeroaccess.de
Mist Systems, a Juniper Networks company, is one of the leading providers facilitating a move to AI-
controlled IT. The Mist Learning Wireless LAN (WiFi) makes WiFi predictable, reliable and measurable
by providing unparalleled visibility into user-friendliness and replacing time-consuming manual IT tasks
with proactive automation. Mist also brings enterprise-level WiFi, BLE and IoT together. This enables
the provision of personalised, location based wireless services without the need for battery-operated
beacons. All processes are managed via Mist's modern cloud architecture, to ensure maximum
scalability, agility and performance.
Further information: www.mist.com