Augmented Wi-Fi: Driven by AI
‘Hey, what is your Wi-Fi password?’, People ask me when they come to my home almost within first few minutes. And, I either give them my Wi-Fi Network Name/password or configure it on their device. But, then there is so much of risk! I essentially connect them to my local network. If there is a “hacker” software on their device, it can perhaps start figuring out what is breakable in my home network. It can probably hack my network in more ways than I can imagine. What if it can access my “identity,” my “social security number,” “bank accounts,” “passwords” etc. Let us not even go there.
Or, consider the scenario when I am not at my home. I look for a Wi-Fi Networks around me and make assumptions. I assume that the ‘Name’ that sounds reasonable must be the one provided by the owner of those premises. For example, when I am at San Francisco International Airport, I use #SFO_Free_WiFi and trust that it is correct one. My kids use it too and here goes my parental control. They now roam uncontrolled. And, don’t forget that we have to accept/agree to every privacy violation the Wi-Fi provider wants us to opt-in. Remember the London incident where when people connected to the public free hotspot, the terms and conditions included a “Herod clause” promising free Wi-Fi but only if “the recipient agreed to assign their first born child to us for the duration of eternity”. Six people signed up!
Not only that, each Wi-Fi network is a separate private network. My home network, my office network, hotel network, or any coffee shop network etc. are all separate networks. When my wife calls me when I am in another city and if she is having problem with the home Wi-Fi, I can’t help because I am on a network which is different from my Wi-Fi network at home. Most of us are turning into Wi-Fi engineers to configure Wi-Fi at home. Have you seen the web pages that show up when you configure the Wi-Fi access points from WPLink, Linksys, NetGear etc. Eero, Google, and other companies, have tried to create mobile apps or simplified versions but they go only so far too.
All these problems are solvable by making use of sophisticated tools, understanding what client isolation means, identity management software, Cloud-based Wi-Fi networks, VPN setups, etc.
It has reached the masses but still, needs an engineer to configure or operate.
And, if you take a moment, in this age when its all about mobility, SSID is something that is tying you to a location, tying you to the “premises”, tying you to the “owner of the premises.” The need to connect with a SSID to get Wi-Fi access needs to go away. In this IOT world, this is even more important than anything else. Over 50 billion devices to be connected in next five years and many of them will be connecting over Wi-Fi. Configuring each device or every IOT gateway with Wi-Fi configuration parameters is just not practical.
Last year, I wrote that Artificial Intelligence will revolutionize Wi-Fi. I had mentioned how machine learningcan help with user experience or network operation. I strongly believe that brainwaves can be used to augment human experience of the Wi-Fi network and eventually, internet. And, another area where AI will help is seamless identity based login and user’s control on the policy. AI will help us to create a Wi-Fi network that follows the user, follows the device, and requires no SSID to connect. A Wi-Fi network that is so smart, it will enable the “access” based on who you are, what you are, or what your intentions are and not who the owner of premises is. The concept of SSID as we know today will go away. This is what I call Augmented WiFi. Artificial intelligence augmented Wi-Fi. Augmented Wi-Fi will not just help with user experience or network operation; it will also enable seamless login and user policy control.
It all began with SSID
Every time I look at SSID, the quote from Dr. Seuss comes to my mind.
It all began with a shoe on the wall. A shoe on the wall shouldn’t be there at all – Dr. Seuss
Every wireless network has a name and Service Set Identifier (SSID) is simply the technical term for that name. A wireless device (client) must use SSID (this network name) and the corresponding password (if any) to connect to access the resources of the traditional wired network behind the Access Point. The wired network can be an organization intranet or the Internet, depending on the placement of the Access Point.
SSID also enables multiple independent wireless networks to coexist in the same physical area. It is a very common to have a separate SSID for guest users versus employees, for example.
This has been the architecture from the ‘day one’. What goes on behind that SSID is going to vary wildly depending on the environment in play. The SSIDs are defined by the owner/administrator of the Wi-Fi Access Point and the policies, the security, the privacy, the data collection, roaming, everything is controlled by the owner/administrator of the Wi-Fi Access Point.
To paraphrase Rousseau, man is born free, yet everywhere he is caged. The free movement is curtailed by the arbitrary lines known as borders. And, SSID is yet another border!
In Augmented Wi-Fi, when a user enters a premise, the user’s device is automatically connected to the user’s private network segment that has the policies as set up by the user. It is done based on user biometrics or something else. I could not have asked for a better ID than the Face ID in iPhone X. User gets the experience, the user has opted in for. User doesn’t have to succumb to idiosyncratic agreements desired by the owner of the premises. Owner of premises does not control anything around Wi-Fi. It becomes free. The user does not have to ask SSID or password. In fact, the SSID is not even advertised by the Access Points. A user is always in the user’s private network.
As a user may have multiple identities, for example, at home, as an employee at work, a volunteer at a non-profit or so on, the user can be part of multiple private networks although the user does not feel it.
Yes, some end goals like this have been thought as part of HotSpot standards also but they have been lost in the SSIDs or Cloud-based Wi-Fi. You can think of Augmented Wi-Fi as the next evolution of Wi-Fi. It will enable the consistent experience, remove configuration, better privacy, security, air utilization and a true borderless experience.