Context is king: Aruba founder talks about future of wireless

Networks able to understand contextual clues will improve security, flexibility and provide broad new feature sets in the future, said Aruba founder and CTO Keerti Melkote in a keynote address from the company’s Atmosphere conference on Wednesday.

Networks able to understand contextual clues will improve security, flexibility and provide broad new feature sets, said Aruba founder and CTO Keerti Melkote in a keynote address from the company’s Atmosphere conference on Wednesday.

Keerti Melkote Jon Gold

Keerti Melkote

Melkote’s presentation teased some novel technologies that Aruba is in various stages of incorporating into its offerings, though few timelines were offered.

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“The newest idea that goes into context is this idea of location. Where using location, you can improve user experience around finding conference rooms, for example,” he said, showing off a demo of a location-system for a hotel that rerouted room service orders to the lounge as the guest moved around, among other things.

Another demo showcased a technology that allowed access points to self-optimize their channel and power settings, and Aruba also talked about plans for multi-zone APs (allowing multiple networks on a single AP), and virtualized switches.

In a subsequent conversation with Network World, Melkote talked more extensively about the future of wireless networking, and addressed concerns that a highly context-aware, location-dependent wireless network might create privacy concerns.

For one thing, he said, such systems should have safeguards in place to ensure that personally identifiable information isn’t used for anything it shouldn’t be. Clear opt-in policies must be used.

“You’ve got to protect privacy, and do everything possible with the technology to enable privacy to be sacrosanct,” he said. “Mapping to real identities is the problem.”

Speaking about upcoming wireless standards, Melkote said that 802.11ad would rise to prominence within the next two years. The 60GHz technology doesn’t propagate over great distances or through thick barriers, but offers the possibility of very high throughput.

“Initially, it was envisioned as a high-speed replacement for cable,” he said. “If you’re trying for coverage, it’s not the right technology, but if you’re trying to provide capacity, it can be a good technology.”

But he cautioned that it is still very early in the game where 802.11ad is concerned, and that there aren’t even chipsets yet available.

“The big thing that I look for here is the economics – can you get to a price point that is palatable for the end user?” Melkote said.

Melkote is unimpressed, however, with the introduction of another new wireless technology that’s making waves – namely, LTE-U. The carrier technology, which is designed to take the pressure off strained LTE networks by shifting some traffic onto unlicensed frequencies used by Wi-Fi, has ruffled feathers in the wireless community.

“Initial plans for LTE-U didn’t do a good job of implementing listen-before-talk,” he said. “It was worrisome, frankly, for the Wi-Fi industry. It could really trample on the Wi-Fi neighbors, who have been good neighbors for a long time.”

Melkote said, however, that it’s unlikely that users will tolerate a technology that interferes with Wi-Fi, so he’s confident that any successful LTE-U implementation will be relatively uncontroversial.

“I personally believe the market will take care of it, simply because I just don’t see the momentum of Wi-Fi slowing down,” he told Network World. “And if it is being slowed down by this, then it’s going to die.”

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