Extreme Networks Reports a Wi-Fi High for Super Bowl LI

Ten years ago, the Colts defeated the Bears, 29–17 in Super Bowl XLI before an iPhone-free audience. It wasn’t until that spring when Apple fans camped out to score the first iPhone, with Android launching later that year.
Fast-forward to 2017 and the game has changed. The excitement of Super Bowl LI played out in front of a smartphone-enabled audience and, according to the Official Wi-Fi and Wi-Fi Analytics Provider for the event, Extreme Networks, it proved to be the most connected one-day event of record.
This isn’t hard to believe—a Deloitte study reported that Americans check their phones eight billion times a day. Yes, we’re hooked. What’s interesting is how a milestone event such as the Super Bowl can offer a bird’s eye view into how we’re hooked. This is a story told in numbers and, thanks to Extreme (and summarized in the infographic below), we have that data.

Record-breaking Data

Let’s start with the volume. According to Extreme’s analytics platform, a whopping 11.8 terabytes of data traversed the Wi-Fi network during Super Bowl LI. For those of us who glaze over when it comes to data metrics, that’s about 5,130 hours of HD Netflix streaming or nearly 3.4 million songs. It’s also nearly double the data reported for Super Bowl XLIX, a significant jump in just a two-year period.
But what’s happening with all this connectivity? Social media was the top activity, with 14 percent of data attributed to fans scrolling and tapping their way through the network feeds. Facebook and Snapchat dominated, collectively comprising 10 percent of that activity. (Instagram and Twitter might want to make note that Snapchat jumped from last place to second in just one year.)
Overall, social activity increased 55 percent from the previous year, a jump that Extreme attributed in part to the availability of live video broadcasting tools like Facebook Live.

Increased reach beyond the stadium

The data also showed that more fans took advantage of the free Wi-Fi at and around the game this year. At peak, there were 27,191 concurrent users, with 49 percent of attendees joining the Wi-Fi network. This is up 41 percent from last year.
It’s also worth noting that Extreme’s connectivity wasn’t limited to NRG Stadium but was also available at the NFL Headquarters (within Houston’s Marriott Marquis), House of Blues and the nine-day Super Bowl LIVE event downtown. So, in addition to connecting over 143,000 fans as well as NFL owners, players and staff and transferring 20.52 terabytes of data across its Wi-Fi network during Super Bowl LI week, Extreme’s network also enabled attractions like Journey to Mars.
The increase in the number of smartphones can contribute to the growth of Wi-Fi users at the event, though, as market intelligence provider IDC has reported, the velocity of smartphone adoption is leveling out.
Another key factor may be awareness of the option for free Wi-Fi service. Consumers—and particularly the hyper-connected social storytelling types—are sensitive to network congestion at highly populated events and may be more likely to seek out alternatives. In fact, that which may be considered a perk right now (free Wi-Fi) may soon fall into the realm of expectation for major events.

Where is it heading?

With the next Super Bowl eleven months away, there’s plenty of time for surprises when it comes to trends in connected behavior. It’s reasonable to assume that social media will continue to dominate, but will Facebook continue to lead the way? How will the recent launch of Instagram Live impact the rankings? And is it possible that another platform could come in at the last minute, Patriots-style, and change the game?
This is all a far cry from 2007’s flip phones, but it’s still just the beginning. Live broadcasting, along with virtual and augmented reality, is still in the novelty stage; we can expect that these and other technologies will be more integrated into the game experience in the coming years. For example, imagine 360-degree views of the field, or haptic technology that allows audiences to experience the sensation of a tackle (in moderation, hopefully), and the eventual blurring of the in-person and at-home experience.
Whatever’s in store, it’s safe to say that this year’s record-breaking connectivity will not hold that record for long.

Orange’s Libon app lets you take calls to your number over Wi-Fi

Libon, the WhatsApp and Skype competitor from French carrier group Orange, has an interesting new feature called Reach Me, which will allow people to send and receive calls over Wi-Fi using their mobile phone number, regardless of who their actual carrier is.

The Libon app has been around for more than two years now — Orange won’t say how many users it has amassed during that time, but the carrier group uses it to offer special calling deals through its local operators, and Libon chief Dominic Lobo told me that people are using it in over 100 countries.

The Reach Me feature is being pitched as a way to get around poor indoor mobile coverage. “If someone calls you, the call is picked up by your Libon service – all you need is Wi-Fi coverage in your home or wherever you are and you’ll never miss a call,” Lobo told me.

I reckon that also makes it an interesting proposition for those traveling overseas and looking to avoid roaming voice fees, though they would of course need to have a Wi-Fi connection, and Libon will have to have been enabled in the country where they are.

Orange will show off the Reach Me feature at Mobile World Congress next week, and will roll it out commercially during the first half of this year. Italy will be first, somewhere around the end of March. According to Lobo, Italy has a lot of Android phones (the feature will be available on that platform first) and enough existing Libon users to provide Orange with good data on the initial rollout.

In addition, Orange doesn’t have a carrier in Italy, making it a good showcase for the so-called “over-the-top” (i.e. provided over the internet like Skype et al) nature of the app. “We want to demonstrate that we can launch it in a market unrelated to ours,” Lobo said.

The whole world is sucking down mobile data like it’s water

We may be pushing more of our cellular activity over to Wi-Fi, but we’re still guzzling mobile data like it’s going out of style, according to the latest estimates from Cisco’s Mobile Visual Networking Index. The telecommunications equipment vendor puts out its Visual Networking Index twice a year, once for wireline and once for mobile network traffic — and estimates how much we’ll see in the coming five years.

And when it comes to cellular, the entire world is going to go from consuming about 2.5 exabytes a month in 2014 to 25 exabytes a month in 2019, with a large portion of that growth coming from new device users in developing countries in Latin America, China and the Middle East. Just for comparison’s sake, an exabyte is a billion gigabytes. My cellular plan lets me have 5GB a month.

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That’s a lot of cellular activity and some of that will be spread among 2G, 3G and 4G connections according to the folks at Cisco. But what’s more notable is that the individual data usage will increase so much — from almost 2GB used per month in 2014 in North American to almost 11 GB — brought about in part by adding more devices to the network. Think about not only traditional tablets and laptops, but also cars and connected gadgets, such as backup connections for a home hub or a connected medical device.

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Thomas Barnett Jr., director of Cisco’s VNI program, expects there to be changes in carrier pricing to go with this increase in data, but it will most likely be in the guise of new shared device plans, not necessarily in more generous gigabit allotments given directly. It’s worth noting here that these numbers do not include Wi-Fi offload, which worldwide takes about 44 percent of the traffic off the network, according to Barnett. In the U.S., that number is about 66 percent.

The big drivers behind this growth won’t surprise many: People coming online and more devices. In developing countries, people coming online and the rise of smartphones in the hands of those people will drive much of the traffic growth in those countries. In the Asia-Pacific region, shown in the above chart and the one below, it’s worth noting that the averages are a bit skewed because rural China behaves like a developing country dragging down the averages of cities in South Korea and Japan where connectivity is oftentimes better than anywhere else in the world.

In North America and Western Europe, the reason for traffic growth will come from more video consumption, but also more devices coming online in the form of the internet of things. The chart below offers a pretty involved take at each country’s drivers if you have the patience to study it.

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So let’s break down one of the macro trends driving traffic — the internet of things. Cisco has taken a closer look at both wearables and how the rise of newer, low power wide area networks (it calls these LPWA) like the Weightless or Sigfox networks might affect traffic. It thinks that those networks have a possible advantage for certain types of traffic, especially in western Europe where they seem to be taking off, but they don’t seem to be taking a significant burden off the existing cellular networks anytime soon.

That’s because there are many costs associated with transitioning from one network to another, and it’s not a move to be made lightly. If you have a 3G module in the field, it will likely remain there until it dies on its own or your carrier kills the 3G network.

This chart represents all of the device traffic including M2M across networks.

This chart represents all of the device traffic including M2M across networks.

This chart represents only M2M traffic  across networks. You can see that even among M2M 3G is winning through 2019.

This chart represents only M2M traffic across networks. You can see that even among M2M 3G is winning through 2019.

Cisco also broke down some trends in the wearables market, and estimated that a GoPro camera connected to a cellular network running for 2 hours would generate 600 MB of data. It did a similar case study for Google Glass a year or two ago just to send shivers down the spines of its telco customers, but the point is not all that crazy. People may not shoot video on cellular networks regularly, but video downloads still constitute a huge percentage of cellular traffic and video uploads are not terribly uncommon, especially at big events.

Meanwhile Cisco estimated that currently only two million wearables were connected to the cellular network in 2014 and estimated that number would only increase to about 42 million by 2019, accounting for just a small amount of the overall number of devices and traffic on networks. But it estimated that if those devices were medical they might need some service guarantees or require dedicated networks.

Finally, we’ll end with a fun chart that shows where the internet of things might fit in with all the other devices that connect to the cellular networks. I only wish Cisco had added cars to this chart, but it’s still fun to see that my smart watch might generate more data than a flip phone.

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A guide to New York’s plan to cover the city in Wi-Fi hotspots

In December, New York City agreed to permanently change its cityscape and provide internet access on street corners sporting download speeds that are an order of magnitude faster than those available in many people’s homes in the five boroughs.

CityBridge, a for-profit consortium of four companies, will rip out old payphones and install new internet infrastructure in its place. Kiosks called Links will not only provide free and fast Wi-Fi for your smartphone or computer, but they’ll have USB ports for charging, will provide free calls to anywhere in the United States, and will have built-in Android tablets for internet connectivity in case you don’t have a device. Basically, everything you need while you’re out and about; except for a bathroom.

These souped-up hotspots will supposedly pay for themselves, too. New York City, according to Mayor Bill de Blasio, isn’t contributing a taxpayer cent to the construction and operation of Links around the city. In fact, New York City expects to generate about $500 million over the life of the contract from the project. CityBridge plans to make its money through advertising.

This year, CityBridge will start to reveal how it’s going to pull this off and what it means for New Yorkers, including where the first Links will be installed. Hopefully, a few Links will be installed before the end of the year.

Here’s what you need to know about New York’s municipal Wi-Fi network as it gets off the ground.

What will the physical Links look like?

There are two proposed Link designs, one with display advertising and one without advertising, although for the next four years you’ll basically only see the wider, advertising-supported Link:

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There’s also going to be a skinnier Link without display advertising, but those will mainly be deployed in Staten Island, at least to start, because that borough has its own community restrictions on signage:

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Each link will supply a Wi-Fi network within a 150-foot radius. If you’re wondering what these would look like rendered into a New York scene, CityBridge also has illustrations of what Links could look like in Midtown Manhattan, or near the Barclays Center, or in brownstone Brooklyn:

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Both Links were designed by Masamichi Udagawa and Sigi Moeslinger, whose company Antenna Design has created installations for New York City in the past. Each Link will have USB ports for charging devices, as well as an installed touchscreen tablet running Android which will allow users to access the internet and make free phone calls within the United States though a directional speaker, as well as access city services and information.

What is CityBridge?

CityBridge is a partnership between four companies: Titan, the New York display advertising giant; Comark, which will be fabricating the actual kiosks; Control Group, which is providing most of the strategy for the concern; and chipmaker [company]Qualcomm[/company]. They all own about a quarter of the partnership, which entered into a 12-year, $200 million contract with New York City to build and administer Links.

When does installation start?

Short answer: You might be seeing the first Links installed at the end of 2015.

Since the project to install Links is taking place over a 12-year period, it can feel far off in the future. Many figures cited by the government are over eight years, like CityBridge’s promise to install 6,000 advertising-supported Links and 1,500 of its skinner sibling. In fact, it will take the full 12 years on the contract to install the 10,000-Link figure you might have seen thrown around last fall. But the project should actually start breaking ground this year.

But before concrete gets ripped up, first the New York Public Design Commission needs to approve the Link’s design. Once that happens, the clock starts ticking on minimum installation requirements in the CityBridge contract.

One year and 120 days after the Art Commission signs off, CityBridge is required to have installed this many Links:

Screen Shot 2015-01-31 at 5.59.23 PM

After four years, which is considered a major turning point for the LinkNYC project because it marks the end of cannibalizing old payphones, there will be 4550 Links installed in the five boroughs:

Screen Shot 2015-01-31 at 6.00.41 PM

Ultimately, to fulfill the contract, Citybridge will need to install 7,500 links in an eight-year period or face fines. However, CityBridge can elect to install more than these minimum numbers, and probably will, considering its advertising-based business model.

What happens after four years?

Although LinkNYC was first proposed and has been mostly publicized as a program to replace old payphones, the installation of a Link actually doesn’t require an existing payphone unit. Indeed, after four years, Links will start popping up in places that didn’t have a payphone there before.

Links won’t be using the old copper wire that provides the dialtone on payphones. In fact, to get to the gigabit speeds both the city and CityBridge are consistently promising, Links will need to be connected by fiber. So little-used payphones around the city have been chosen to be replaced not for their current connections, but because they’re likely in convenient spots.

Will I actually see gigabit speeds?

Without testing a Link out in person, it’s hard to say, but CityBridge certainly seems committed to that gigabit number.

One of the controversies surrounding LinkNYC when it was announced that CityBridge had won the contract was whether all Links would be outfitted with gigabit connections, which requires a fiber optic connection. Some alleged that poorer neighborhoods in the outer boroughs would get stuck with weaker connections — still rated for 100Mbps, easily surpassing the FCC’s new broadband definition — where ritzy neighborhoods would get the gigabit speeds. In response, CityBridge clarified that the value of a Link’s advertisments wouldn’t have anything to do with the speeds, and that 95 percent of Links would support gigabit speeds, based on fiber availability.

Anne Roest, New York’s commissioner of information technology, noted that CityBridge committed $200 million dollars to building New York’s fiber network out in all five boroughs.

The second speed bottleneck could be your own device. The only Wi-Fi protocol that currently supports gigabit download speeds is 802.11ac, which may not be built into your device, especially if it’s older. But LinkNYC will support it. From the contract, each hub “must be capable of supporting up to 256 devices with a total aggregate throughput of 1Gbps” and “simultaneous dual spectrum 2.4 GHz 802.11 b/g/n, and 5GHz a/n/ac services.” So if you’re the only one connected to a Link, you might be able to pull down gigabit speeds.

Plus, there’s a requirement built into the agreement for CityBridge to upgrade its Link design every four years, in case a technology like WiGig takes off and should be installed, or any other obvious improvements to stave off obsolescence. In fact, there’s a pilot program planned in the Bronx for a partially solar-powered Link that might be incorporated into the next design.

What will the advertising look like?

CityBridge already has a draft of a privacy policy, which indicates that it plans to show ads on the built-in tablets as well as on people’s devices.

When you connect to the network, you’ll first hit a splash page with a little bit of advertising. You’ll need to provide an email address, a username and password to create a LinkNYC account. The hope is that even when you go from one Link location to another, you can access the network without logging in again. The range of a link is 150 feet in all directions, so even if there’s a link at every corner there will still be areas on a block too far away to connect.

But the real moneymaker will be display advertisements. Titan already makes a mint by selling mini-billboards around the city, and Links — at least the wider model — will come with two digital ad units on each side that can be changed remotely or sold programatically. Essentially, Titan, an outdoor advertising company, is getting the inventory to display thousands of new state-of-the-art ad units around New York.

“Major brands will flock to advertise on the LinkNYC network because the structures look beautiful,” Dave Etherington, chief strategy officer at Titan said. “This also means they could customize their message from Link to Link.”

Titan… Where have I heard that name before?

Last fall, Buzzfeed discovered that Titan had installed and activated beacons — a Bluetooth technology — in phone booths all over New York City. In response, de Blasio’s office asked them to remove the beacons or turn them off.

It’s hard to say. The privacy policy says:

We do not collect information about your precise location. However, we know where we provide WiFi services, so when you use the Services we can determine your general location.

Beacons, commonly used for precise proximity location, would appear to violate the privacy policy. However, the CityBridge contract specifically says that a one-way Bluetooth connection — like Beacons use — could be included in the Link.

The provision of USB charging ports… and one-way blue-tooth transmission of Structure location information are expressly contemplated ancillary services and do not require subsequent approval of the Commissioner.

Brian Dunphy, a senior vice president at Qualcomm’s beacon spinoff Gimbal, seemed excited about the Link project at a public hearing. “It is easy to imagine an application creating an app that allows visually-impaired to understand exactly where they are within the city as well as providing them with access to services and offers in a way that was previously unimaginable,” Dunphy said.

“We absolutely support the use of the platform for sensors for the Internet of Things,” Colin O’Donnell, managing member of CityBridge, said. That presumably includes beacons.

Should I be concerned that CityBridge could track me?

CityBridge will collect and log the usual network stuff, including MAC addresses, URL requests, and other device identifiers, and like the vast majority of ISPs, will turn network data over to law enforcement when subpoenaed.

O’Donnell said Links will block peer-to-peer traffic. However, it doesn’t look like they’ll be blocking websites. CityBridge says that it’s committed to net neutrality, and it “shall not in providing the Wi-Fi Service unreasonably discriminate in transmitting lawful network traffic.”

Links will not recognize Do Not Track settings in users’ browsers.

Ultimately, it’s difficult to argue with the privacy of a city service that will always be free. CityBridge won’t be able to introduce a new premium tier of service later, either, so it will have to make its money through advertising.

Who’s unhappy about the LinkNYC project?

The biggest controversy surrounding the Links is that CityBridge’s contract runs for twelve years (plus a city option to extend it to fifteen years) and during that period, it might not be possible for other vendors to build Links with their own technology on city property — giving CityBridge an effective monopoly on city-furnished Wi-Fi for over a decade. The companies most affected are pay phone operators.

“At present, with this decision to award the entire contract to one company, the City ignores the law and precedent as set forth by Congress, the President and the Supreme Court, calling for open competition in the American way,” Lester Shafran, Director of the Independent Payphone of New York said. “Winner takes all leads to many losers.”

The deluge continues: 3 smart home hubs worth checking out

I thought we’d be over hubs by now, but I was wrong. They are still coming hot and heavy, and if the Consumer Electronics Show was any indication, there are still more heading our way. So instead of doing deep dives into what I think is a pretty full market, I figured I’d start doing some roundups of products and hit on the features that make them interesting, because honestly, who can keep up anymore?

Today’s batch are the hubs found on crowdfunding sites. They have some cool tweaks that make them a bit different, but of course, as with all crowdfunding efforts, who knows when they will actually deliver.

Of all of these Hive looks to be the most likely one I’d back, and Oomi is the only one I’ve seen in person. Let’s get to it.

hive
Hive: This system combines a hub and speaker (or series of speakers) with an app that lets you control the whole shebang. The Kickstarter promises that the hub not only controls the speakers but also your connected gadgets via an impressive array of radios, including Z-wave, ZigBee, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. The video shows a Nest, motion sensors and other devices working with the hub. The speakers not only tie in to become “the voice of your home,” but also act as a sound system that can be linked to play the same music all over your house or separate music from sites that appear to be supported by Google’s Chromecast ready program. The campaign shows the Spotify logo but makes no mention of it elsewhere.

A backup battery and integrated 3G modem mean you have backup connectivity if your power goes out. The app will be available  for Android and iOS and everything is expected to ship in May. The retail price is expected to be $299 for the hub and $199 for each speaker, although the Kickstarter prices are cheaper. Those waiting for retail might get a discount if they buy optional security monitoring packages along with their purchase. This is certainly something I’m going to look for later this summer, although the Kickstarter is not doing well so far.

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Oomi: I ran into these guys at CES and thought they had a unique way of using NFC radios to get devices to connect to the system. Basically, you tap to touch a device to onboard a sensor to the main hub. It’s fun, but it only works with the Oomi products and any NFC-enabled phones. Still, even technophobes could use this and get started with a smart home. The main component is a stylish black cube that includes a lot of sensors, a microphone, a speaker and a video camera. It acts a security and communication device and has an IR sensor for controlling televisions and a variety home automation and media devices.

The system also comes with a connected outlet and a tablet to control the whole system. In keeping with the simple idea, Oomi is a learning system and once you connect your devices to it, it starts learning how you use your home and then starts building up its own rules and schedules for users. The folks behind Oomi already plan to launch a colorful light bulb, an air quality monitor and a Chromecast-like media streaming stick for the system. It also supports other Z-wave devices and says it integrates with other popular devices such as Sonos, Hue lights and Nest. Retail cost should be about $450 for a cube, a plug and the tablet, but it costs as low as $230 on Indiegogo with delivery in August and an adaptive intelligence engine released in November 2015(presumably after it is trained on early user data). I like this, but the integrated camera kind of freaks me out because it could monitor my home. I did see that it offers a shutter for the camera for folks like me.

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Branto: This is a glowing orb that plays music and changes color. It certainly offers less functionality than Oomi or Hive, but sometimes simpler is better. What sets Branto apart from almost anything out there is that it contains a 360-degree rotating camera that you control from an app. Plus, it has two microphones. So you can see your whole home or teleconference and look around the table.

The smart home elements come in because Branto also has a motion sensor, IR output, connected speaker capability that connected to various services and the ability to control popular home automation devices like WeMo, Nest and Philips Hue lights. The Kickstarter campaign notes that Branto will offer various options such as ZigBee, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and cellular modules down the line. The Branto will retail for about $500, although the Kickstarter prices are less than that, and it will ship to backers in September.

This is big: Cablevision launches Wi-Fi-only mobile phone service

Cablevision is getting ready to pick a fight with your mobile phone company.  Next month, the cable operator is going to introduce a low-cost mobile phone service dubbed Freewheel that’s based entirely on Wi-Fi connectivity. Freewheel will offer existing Cablevision internet service subscribers unlimited talk, text and data for a mere $9.95 per month. Consumers who don’t use Cablevision’s internet service can sign on for $29.95 per month.

At launch, Freewheel is only working with one handset: [company]Cablevision[/company] will sell Motorola’s Moto G for $99.95, and the phone will come preloaded with apps that automatically authenticate with any of the company’s hotspots.

Cablevision started building out its own Optimum Wi-Fi network in 2007, and now has more than 1.1 million hotspots in the New York tri-state area. The company adopted Fon-like Wi-Fi sharing last year, essentially turning its customers’ Wi-Fi routers into public hotspots by adding a second, separate network that can be accessed by any Optimum customer, and now by any Freewheel subscriber as well.

In addition to that, Freewheel customers have access to some 300,000 hotspots across the country, courtesy of the CableWiFi initiative that brings together Wi-Fi access points from big cable companies like [company]Comcast[/company], Cox and Time Warner Cable. And of course, the device will also work with any other Wi-Fi network a user has access to, whether it’s at home or at their office.

However, Freewheel users may have a harder time staying connected on their commute: The service doesn’t include any fall-back option to connect to mobile networks when Wi-Fi is unavailable, which means that users won’t be able to make calls or access data services when they’re not connected to a Wi-Fi network. That’s why the company is primarily targeting users who are in what it calls “Wi-Fi-rich environments” like college campuses and urban areas with a high density of mobile hotspots.

Cablevision has also in the past made a point of highlighting how big of a hit Wi-Fi already is with its customers. Each Cablevision internet household already has 2.88 devices accessing Wi-Fi on average, and customers have used Optimum Wi-Fi nearly one billion times during Q4 of 2014, consuming 19 petabytes of data, according to statistics shared by the company.

Cablevision isn’t the first company to use Wi-Fi as an alternative to traditional mobile networks. Low-cost mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) FreedomPop introduced a Wi-Fi-only service tier last year that promises access to 10 million hotspots for $5 a month. However, Cablevision does have a distinct advantage by operating its own network of hotspots, and it also has a lot bigger megaphone. Its new Freewheel service will be available to consumers nationwide, but Cablevision plans to heavily market it on its home turf.

That could quickly get interesting: Cablevision’s biggest competitor in its home market is [company]Verizon[/company], which has been using its FIOS broadband service to steal internet customers away from the cable company. With Freewheel, Cablevision is now attempting to turn the tables, and offer a combination of broadband internet, TV and mobile phone service of its own.

Ultimately, Freewheel could become a blueprint for other cable-led mobile initiatives. Comcast has been aggressively building out its own Wi-Fi network by also relying on a crowdsourced approach that turns customer’s Wi-Fi routers into Xfinity hotspots. And with mobile phone usage increasingly moving towards data services, we could possibly see a whole bunch of new players offering Wi-Fi-only or Wi-Fi-first mobile services soon.

Wi-Fi Alliance intros beacon-like tech to offer context

The Wi-Fi Alliance is creating a new certification program called Wi-Fi Aware that seeks to provide information about where a device is in relation to other devices and to share contextual information with the user without sucking down a lot of juice. For example in a stadium it might be used to tell a person that there’s a shorter line for concessions just ten feet a way or in an airport it might share gate information or let you know one of your colleagues is also nearby in the terminal.

If this sounds like beacon technology offered by Bluetooth Low Energy you would be right. Edgar Figueroa, president and CEO of Wi-Fi Alliance, did not compare it directly to beacons, but did explain that Wi-Fi Aware was designed to offer “neighbor awareness” between devices. He then shared the stadium line example and pointed out that many places already have deployed Wi-Fi with the implication that they have not already deployed Bluetooth beacons.

Basically, as the internet of things gains ground, Wi-Fi needs to add new capabilities. Connecting all these things without burdening the end user with dozens of notifications or requiring college-level programming skills just to program a new rule for home automation will require contextual awareness of both where people are related to devices and where devices are related to each other. Wi-Fi Aware is an answer to that problem.

Of course, for this to be a success there are two big issues that The Alliance will have to conquer, building it into devices and applications and making sure it really doesn’t consume a lot of power. To reduce power consumption Figueroa says the technology sends the Wi-Fi Aware signals out in a cluster — it’s not always broadcasting. This requires some pretty intense timing and synchronization he didn’t get into, but he did promise to send me a paper on the technology that I’m still waiting on.

As for the second problem, it’s worth mentioning, because while Wi-Fi is widespread, the Alliances’ Wi-Direct certification that allows devices to directly share information such as sharing a picture taken on a camera directly with another user without emailing it, isn’t something I encounter very often. Figueroa says that in the coming year we should see more of it as the Alliance gets more manufacturers and app developers on board.

As for Wi-Fi Aware, this isn’t something that’s going to be out anytime soon. The Alliance is announcing that it wants to create the certification program at International CES, but it won’t actually begin that process until the middle of this year. So we’re not going to see any Wi-Fi Aware certifications and actual devices until the end of this year — likely not until 2016 if we’re being realistic. In the meantime, Beacons and BLE will proliferate.

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Man gets $1,171 bill for using in-flight Wi-Fi

When it comes to offering WiFi in the sky, airlines enjoy a situational monopoly. Still, this takes the cake: A Singapore Airlines passenger stepped off a plane, looked at his phone and discovered a bill for $1,171.46.