Wi-Fi networks seem to now be everywhere.  Once primarily confined to the home or office, we now expect Wi-Fi access in coffee shops, hotels, airports, stores and even in sport stadiums.  Not only are these Wi-Fi networks providing valuable Internet access to appreciative mobile users, they are collecting massive amounts of useful information.  Innovative businesses and operators are now learning how to unlock this valuable information to turn Wi-Fi networks into key enablers of business value.  We have identified eight technical characteristics of Wi-Fi networks that can help to deliver real value to the bottom-line:

 1.     Recognizes All Wi-Fi Enabled Devices

Recent research by Cisco IBSG shows that consumers have an average of 2.6 mobile devices, most of which are now Wi-Fi enabled.  These devices are constantly signaling of their existence to Wi-Fi networks.  As a result, Wi-Fi access points are constantly collecting information on these devices and the movements of their owners without users having to authenticate on the network.  This means that venues are collecting information on a large number of people at an – effectively anyone who enters with a Wi-Fi activated mobile device in his pocket.  However, this does not raise personal privacy issues because only the MAC address of the device is collected and the information is aggregated across all users.

2.     Hyper-Sensitive Location

Triangulation from the access points can currently locate a mobile user to within 3 to 4 metres.  However, new technologies will make this even more accurate, down to 1 to 2 metres.  This means that location targeted advertising can be extremely sensitive to locations within a store or to specific stores within a shopping mall.  Equally, accurate and useful mapping and other location-based services can be offered to customers.

3.     Capture Device Information

By capturing the MAC address, the Wi-Fi network is collecting valuable information on the user’s device, such as type, manufacturer and the speed it moves about the venue.  This information allows businesses to vary their offers, advertising messages, services and customer experience by device type.

4.     Identify Returning Customers

Capturing the MAC address of the different devices also allows the Wi-Fi network to identify returning customers, including the frequency, interval and the duration of their return visits.   This valuable information allows businesses to differentiate offers, advertising messages, services and customer experience between new and loyal customers.

5.     Sophisticated Path Analysis

Data analytic tools by Cisco allow sophisticated, user-friendly analysis of the extensive valuable data collected by the Wi-Fi networks.  These tools can display detailed maps and information of where and when people move about a venue.  Airports are using this to improve their operations in real-time and identifying opportunities to remove bottlenecks to the flow of travelers.  Equally, shopping mall owners are using it to justify different rents in the mall based on the amount of footfall in front of different shops.

 6.     Advanced Filtering

Advanced filtering allows business users to drill down on the data and analytics that are most relevant to their business.  For example, users may want to identify the percentage of people who spent more than 10 minutes in a specific part of your store or shopping mall to evaluate the effective of their in-store merchandizing or marketing campaigns.

7.     Push Information to the Browser

Advanced Wi-Fi networks now have the ability to push information to the browser of the mobile device, giving the user the ability to accept or reject it.  This powerful capability means that businesses can now deliver targeted and rich messages directly to the browser, rather than just messages or banner ads.  Not only does this offer the ability to deliver much richer information, but the customer is much more receptive to receiving it.

8.     Analytics On Anything Happening on the Network

Future capabilities, currently under development, will allow business users to analyze anything that is happening on the Wi-Fi network.  For example, show me where those people using Facebook spend their time in the venue, and how often they return.  Or, show me where people are surfing price comparison sites in the store.  Imagine the value to a retailer of then being able to automatically push a price-matching offer to that price sensitive customer?

The recent white paper (Wi-Fi: Service Providers Can Make Money with New Business Models) by Cisco IBSG describes the viable Wi-Fi business models for turning these technical capabilities into true business value.

We are only just beginning to mine the valuable data available from Wi-Fi networks.  Innovative and pioneering businesses are showing us what can be done and the true business value that can be extracted from Wi-Fi Big Data.


Stuart Taylor


Service Provider Transformation Group