Wednesday 18 December 2013

Wi-Fi Certification: CWNP vs Cisco

I thought I'd do a quick blog on WLAN certification paths...

Firstly, I'd like to say how great it was to begin reading the CWNA and CWDP study guides.  As a wireless engineer if you only ever read two books read these...  You'll be a great engineer if you apply that knowledge to business.  If you follow the past and present CWNP guys on twitter you'll find that they are not only hugely talented WLAN geeks but also very intuitive business people.  This comes across in the CWNP literature and exams.  They are steeped in foundation knowledge of the standards and protocols, plus deployment strategies aren't tied to a vendor.

Moving onto Cisco... From a career perspective Cisco hold a huge majority and Cisco Partners want you to have Cisco accreditation. You'll be sought after in the partner world if you can provide exams that enable Wireless Specialisation for resellers.  This is the reason my Cisco certs came first.

My main gripe with the Cisco wireless exams is that lots of questions are product and version specific. It's almost like there is an element of presages knowledge that Cisco feel needs to be understood by engineers.  For example, how many clients does a 2500 WLC support?  The unwritten rule is that the engineer needs to know which version the exam was written for... Make sure you keep those old data sheets and configuration guides - these numbers change!

Here's a CCNP Mobility question that made me laugh. "You have wireless clients and wireless tags supporting CCX, do you need to buy an AeroScout license to track them?"  The answer is no... you'll know this if you've sold/deployed it.  But is it really a question that defines a good engineer, or a sales checkbox?

I'm about to begin the CWAP and CWSP, and very much looking forward to it.  I'll then be aiming to get my CWNE by the close of 2014.  A qualification that I already consider to be a mark of a top-class wireless engineer.

A final thought... Now that I'm doing the hiring.  I have a CWNP qualified guy and a Cisco qualified guy.  Who will get the job?

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.