Tracking and analysing Wi-Fi activity just got much more sophisticated thanks to the latest release from Ruckus Wireless.

The wireless technology vendor announced its Wi-Fi smart positioning technology named SPoT. The system is designed to assist carriers, service providers and enterprise to gain all sorts of information about activity in Wi-Fi network spaces.

Ruckus said the software will have particular benefits for areas that experience high levels of foot traffic. Retailers and shopping centres are the initial focus, but the company says it can apply the technology to anywhere that experiences high levels of traffic.

While the system is not a first-to-market technology, Ruckus said that the Cloud based nature of the service and the sophistication of its analytics set it apart from competitor products.

"The way the technology works is that it takes the Mac addresses of mobile devices and it caches them. The actual dashboard that the customer gets does not reveal individual Mac addresses, it only shows a volume statistic. It lists total numbers of people, percentage of new versus repeat users, dwell time and a heat map in colour form of where the most popular places in the network area are," said Ruckus country sales manager, Chris Evans.

Evans said the service has great implications for its channel partners and that they will be able to offer it with any Ruckus system. SPoT is currently priced at US$300 per access point per year, Australian and New Zealand Prices will be available at launch. It will become available with Ruckus' next generation of code, Version 9.8, that is due April or May 2014.

From this time the technology will be available with all new Ruckus hardware. Existing users will be able to upgrade existing systems with the additional cost of the subscription Cloud service.

"There are some design criteria around where you position IPs that make it slightly different from a standard networking solution. However, it is our intention to teach our channel partners how to do that."

The company has around a dozen proof of concepts at the moment, one of which is in Australia. Evans was not able to comment on which company the deal was with. He was able to say that it was a shopping centre operator with multiple locations and the rollout is planned for a number of venues, focussing initially on one site.

Implications for public spaces

Evans said that Ruckus is still trying to get across what it thinks the applications for the technology will be. Retail and shopping centres are the obvious initial targets due to the commercial applications.

Other adopters could be train stations and city councils. Evans says that government organisations could plan infrastructure around some of the statistics gained from the system.

With the large spend that governments make on monitoring activity in public space, this could constitute a significant cost saving if deployed effectively, Evans said.

Perth, Brisbane and Cairns have all done deals with Ruckus to roll-out public Wi-Fi spaces. The company said it is working with these government organisations to show how the technology can help better plan public spaces.

Councils are able to use the technology to see how much traffic is going down certain streets or arcades and make adjustments to planning accordingly.

The limitations of the technology are its reliance on Wi-Fi to operate. Evans stated he has seen research that shows around 70 per cent of mobile devices have Wi-Fi switched on at any one time. While this certainly constitutes a majority of users, it cannot provide information from individuals who switch off their Wi-Fi function.

As the use of mobile technology becomes increasingly pervasive and Wi-Fi becomes more advanced, systems such as this will become increasingly popular. As a way for business and government to ascertain information about individuals, services that skirt privacy issues such as MAC address identification may raise privacy concerns depending on how they are utilised.