Looking Through the Wi-Fi LENs

By Ed Sutherland

July 01, 2002

Newbury Networks thinks that Location-Enabled Networks (LENs) using 802.11 technology that responds to users based on where they are could change they way people access information in public, at school, or in the office.

Along the banks of Boston's Charles River, visitors to a luxury hotel are on a guided tour of an art gallery. But this tour is different. Instead of a human guide, there are PDAs and laptops. Rather than plugging in, you step inside a Location-Enabled Network, or LEN, the latest type of wireless network.

The Modern Art Exhibit at the 400-room Royal Sonesta Hotel is the first working example of a LEN. Newbury Networks , the company which coined the term, said many more such networks are on the horizon.

Unlike location-based advertising or government attempts at locating emergency calls placed from cellular phones, LENs operate on wireless local area networks using 802.11 technology.

As in the example of the hotel art tour, a LEN carves up a wireless network into discrete segments which target users passing through the location. A visitor walks past a piece of artwork and is automatically sent Web-based information on the artist or nearby art.

Newbury Networks, a Boston-based company that sprang up in February, doesn't plan to stop there. Newbury spokesman Chuck Conley says four more companies will soon announce pilot LEN applications.

LENs works within a WLAN in conference rooms, offices, classrooms, galleries, or convention centers. Defining spaces as discrete locations "is the essence of the LEN value proposition," according to a Newbury statement.

Newbury's LocaleManager enables "3 Factor Authentication" by detecting what connection you have (via the MAC address or a smartcard), what you know (using a password or a PIN) and where you are. LocaleManager also lets you know all Wi-Fi traffic within range of your network, not just what is on the network.

Although Conley says LENs will start out in public hotspots such as hotels, museums and universities, there is great potential in the enterprise market. The key is provisioning or "pushing" select content or select access.

In a university setting, for example, students at a biology lecture would access the Internet for only biological information. At a corporate headquarters, not only would a LEN allow a company to track resources and people, they would also be able to manage network access and usage based on location. A company could give general Internet access to people while in the reception area, lobby or meeting rooms and give access to the corporate intranet when entering the executive suites.

By managing WLANs by location, Conley believes LENs could provide some added security to the now wide-open Wi-Fi hot spots that deliver "tremendous promise" yet "tremendous hazards."

Customers can "perform tasks never imagined or realized on a wired network -- detecting where security breaches might happen before they occur, provisioning network access based on where a user resides, and tracking usage as well as valuable equipment," said Michael Maggio, president and CEO of Newbury Networks.

Although provisioning, or "pushing" select content to WLAN users who wander into a LEN is of major interest to prospective customers, Newbury's software permits extensive logging, allowing companies to determine which APs receive most use and tweaking a wireless network for optimum performance. A Software Development Kit, Newbury says, allows businesses to quickly "train" or define a LEN and determine the type of data (messages or Web content) "pushed" to a certain location.

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