While familiar WLAN vendors like Cisco, Aruba and Ruckus are all over the move to cloud-managed Wi-Fi, so too are newer companies looking to make a name for themselves.
Two of these privately-held companies – Cloud4Wi and Relay2 -- have news to share this week:
Headquarters: San Francisco
Funding: $12 million
This company, which spun out of Italian managed solutions/services company WiTech, has since 2013 been offering a services platform for advanced guest Wi-Fi, with an initial focus on large retail and restaurant chains like Prada and Burger King. About 70% of the company’s customers are in Europe as a result of its Italian roots, but Cloud4Wi has set up its headquarters in the United States and expects its fresh round of $8 million in funding to fuel growth in the U.S. and beyond.
Cloud4Wi partners with WLAN hardware companies such as Aerohive, Aruba and Cisco, providing an over-the-top service to their clients, who are looking to better engage customers and gather information on patrons that can be used to target marketing/advertising and improve business operations on local and macro levels. Cloud4Wi's software infrastructure sits on Amazon's cloud, though also can be hosted in customer clouds and on carrier networks.
"I know that Aerohive has been pretty vocal about the partnership as it’s a key part of the retail solution ecosystem that they have curated," says Nolan Greene, research analyst for network infrastructure at IDC, which is readying an updated cloud-managed Wi-Fi market forecast. "Cloud4Wi certainly has some traction."
Via its newly rebranded Volare service, Cloud4Wi provides hardware sensors that augment existing WLAN access points by providing location information that a retailer could use, for example, to measure the number of window shoppers and figure out if stores should be open during different hours. Other examples of using location analytics would be sensing when a shopper is near a certain product and hitting that person up with an instant coupon or measuring the number of shoppers in a store at different times to optimize staffing.
"All of those [established WLAN vendors] have basic guest Wi-Fi. But if you think about the evolution of the industry, those companies historically sell to enterprises where guest Wi-Fi is for visitors in the lobby," says Cloud4Wi President Jeff Abramowitz, who previously sold a Wi-Fi-focused PARC spinout called PowerCloud to Comcast. "When the Wi-Fi moves to a retail store or a restaurant now you have an opportunity to provide a branded sign-in page with social log-in options where you record people's email addresses or take their social information and engage with them based on their demographics or their presence in the store or restaurant."
The savvier that brick-and-mortar retailers get using data from their Wi-Fi networks to make shopping at their locations compelling, the better chance they'll have to compete vs. the Amazons of the world, which already are making a killing off of customer analytics and targeted marketing, Abramowitz says. He envisions a time when physical stores serve more as showcases for products to be ordered and delivered via online means.
If all this sounds kind of creepy, consider that the programs are universally opt-in, according to Abramowitz, whose company provides its clients with customizable privacy statements but leaves it up to those clients to work up their own policies. "Increasingly, shoppers are willing [to opt in] to get better deals and access to information in exchange for having the store know a little more about them," he contends. Cloud4Wi itself gathers only anonymized data that it can use to better design its services (for example, it has learned that 80% of shoppers in Europe use