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Three takeaways from “The World’s First Self-Locating Network” announcement at Aruba Atmosphere ’22

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This year, I was part of the Tech Field Day Experience at Aruba Atmosphere ’22. After two years of entirely online events, Aruba decided to have the conference in person this year. It was fantastic to be in the same room with 3,500 friends and colleagues. It turns out we do need each other, even if it is just passing someone by in the corridor between sessions, giving a nod and a smile. After bunkering down for the last two years, the idea of attending a large public event was a little intimidating, but it was refreshing to be out with people again.

Aruba presented the following sessions to the Tech Field Day delegates, and I encourage you to watch them here…

Deep Dive on Aruba Central for AI-powered, Cloud-Managed Networking

Streamline Operations and Enhanced Protection with Aruba Central

Aruba Introduces and Indoor Location Breakthrough

Aruba Presents EdgeConnect SD-WAN at Atmosphere 22

Field Day Roundtable

This being my first Atmosphere, I was surprised at the number of non-Wi-Fi sessions there were. I suppose I shouldn’t have been, since Aruba is a Hewlett Packard Enterprise Company.

I am a Wi-Fi guy at heart, so the presentation that excited me the most was the Indoor Location Breakthrough session by Chuck Lukaszewski, Sachin Ganu, and Stuart Strickland.

Here are my three takeaways

  1. Accurate AP placement - truly precise - can only take place when you have a reference to something external to the system.
  2. GPS can work indoors? No way, well… sort of, technically, yes!
  3. You may already have APs that can do some of this.

Accurate AP Placement

Determining one’s accurate location on the planet has been a problem for a long time. To sail across an ocean and arrive somewhere near a predetermined destination was very important to the earliest explorers. Someone needed to figure out how to accurately track progress with just the available information, time and stars.

Today we are all used to having a pocket-size map with a blue dot telling us precisely where we are in the world. I’ll bet Magellan would have loved to have a smartphone.

To accurately locate APs, we need to start from scratch. In the past, we would find some version of a map of the space, import it into the wireless controller, then drag and drop icons of access points onto where we thought they were located. Is the map current? Is it to scale? Are the APs identified correctly? Are they installed where they should be?

Even if all of this is correct, is there a way to automatically determine placement errors for each AP? We have all experienced issues with “alternately located” access points. If this is our starting point, then location services are doomed to be inaccurate at best and utterly irrelevant at worst.

Today, 80% of Wi-Fi APs are not mapped at all. And 80% of APs that are mapped are placed at about 5-10 meters of error. Even when APs are ‘accurately’ placed, they only exist within a two-dimensional isolated system, and the data can’t be utilized in a global mapping program such as Google, or Apple Maps.

Aruba has set out to accurately locate each installed AP without manual intervention, using standard Latitude/Longitude coordinates.

GPS can work indoors? No way, well… sort of, technically, yes!

Aruba is the first AP manufacturer to integrate a GPS/GNSS chip in an indoor Wi-Fi AP. Every Aruba Wi-Fi 6E AP will have a GPS chip.

APs installed near the exterior walls of the space can have significant access to GPS satellite signals. APs with the most accurate location information will become ‘anchor’ APs. Non-GPS or GPS APs with little or no satellite access will use other Wi-Fi ranging techniques such as Fine Time Measurement (FTM) location and Round Trip Time (RTT).

Indoor APs are primarily stationary, so over time GPS sensors will collect enough data to build a database of location information. The APs deeper in the interior may capture periodic GPS signals. Each measurement will be added to the dataset to improve overall accuracy. The system will automatically determine the "best" access points to use as anchor APs.

These location services will be part of the Aruba Central platform. Some thought has been made to provide an on-prem-only solution, but it is not currently in the pipeline.

Why is accurate indoor AP location important? Starting from a known good and continuously monitored constellation of access point locations, you can do exciting things.

  • AP inventory and theft prevention
  • Third-party application mapping – Google, Apple, Microsoft, etc.
  • Combine trouble report ticket with device location
  • Zero-touch, highly accurate (sub 1 meter) indoor device location and wayfinding
  • Highly accurate source of network time (possible)
  • Much more focused 802.11k neighbor list
  • Meets the requirement for self-location for 6 GHz standard power and CBRS radio

You may already have the APs that can do of some of this

The new tech is the GPS chip in the 6xx Wi-Fi 6E access points series. The stealth announcement is that the existing 5xx series of 802.11ax APs are already capable of FTM ranging. They will become part of the constellation of continuously monitored access points and will broadcast reference location information to client devices in beacons.

“It’s not enough for the entire Aruba footprint to be location-enabled in this way. We need to bring along the rest of the infrastructure. We need to make sure we are aligned with client devices. We need to make sure we are doing this in a standardized way”.  - Stuart Strickland-

The Open Locate Initiative

The current state of indoor location services is a loosely aggregated collection of standardized and proprietary solutions. Aruba also announced the Open Locate Initiative, a standardized location services initiative that will provide Wi-Fi manufacturers of all devices a framework for interoperability.

Aruba has partnered with Tile tracking devices. Now that the announcement has been made, it will be interesting to see how this field opens up.

Summary

It is important to note that this is not an “Indoor GPS” solution. Access points using Aruba’s new Open Locate use GPS geolocation indoors to obtain a precise global LAT/LONG location and pass that location information to the system. Client devices will not receive GPS signal from this system.

Open Locate partners will, however, be able to take advantage of a more precisely located wireless network to process existing Fine Time Measurement technologies opening up new opportunities for indoor location services.

Networking Field Day Experience at Aruba Atmosphere ‘22

We had a great time at the Networking Field Day Experience at Aruba Atmosphere ‘22 event. Check out all of the delegates tweets and hashtags #TFDx & #ArubaAtmosphere. I’m already looking forward to the next time I can get together with people again.

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