Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Delivering Customised Apps using MSAP

The arrival of the Hostpot 2.0 / Passpoint / 802.11u revolution is imminent (see my previous blog for more info).  I've been looking at how apps and content can be intelligently delivered to the 'information generation'.  If the info is useful, they want the app for it... 

You may wonder why aren't we seeing cool apps being pushed over public Wi-Fi already?  Well... It means the vendor, integrator or the customer needs to work on developing the app.  This can be a challenge, particularly if the app needs to be developed for a wide variety of devices (new model resolutions, new features, bug fixing, etc).  Whilst only a few organisations have made that investment so far... 'monetising' Wi-Fi through 802.11u may well be the catalyst for rapid development in this area.

Another protocol that will kick-start customised app delivery is Mobile Service Announcement Protocol (MSAP).  MSAP is a way of automatically delivering apps and content to 802.11u enabled devices that support the protocol.

Examples of MSAP services:
  • Targeted context-aware customer information.
  • Location maps - nearest toilets, baby change, ATM, etc.
  • Promotional offers for retail units.
  • Stadiums - action replays, statistics, commentary.

How does MSAP work?
  • MSAP is Cisco proprietary protocol for service discovery. 
  • MSAP is transported via 802.11u GAS (Generic Advertisement Service).
  • Wi-Fi clients receive icons and service URLs, they show up in the device OS (if enabled by user). Referred to as 'transient apps', they are removed when you leave the service area.
  • Content delivery can be location-aware, i.e. you only receive it when you enter an area.

What do you need?
  • Cisco MSE - operates as MSAP server, delivering XML content (a URL) to the MSAP device.
  • MSAP supported device - currently just Qualcomm SnapDragon S4 chipset. As of Q1 2013, only Android and Windows phones contain this chip.  The notable exception here is Apple devices…
  • Content webserver, mobile app developer.

In Summary

MSAP is definitely a protocol that has potential, there is plenty of demand out there for context-aware application delivery.  Initially it will be a quick win for retail - sales and marketing promotions.  With development there will be real-world benefits to users in a large building, university campus, hospital, shopping centre, or stadium.

The main drawback I see at present is that MSAP isn't a standard. At present only a selection of late 2012 Android and Windows phones running the Qualcomm SnapDragon chip (Apple don't support MSAP yet).  Users will also need to be made aware of the opt-in device configuration.

On a wider note, I should mention that mobile apps can be delivered without 'Cisco' MSAP.  It just means that it's not done automagically, the user needs to download it from an App Store or captive portal.