Cisco, Facebook Team Up To Offer Wi-Fi, Analytics Platform

Cisco is expanding its Connected Mobile Experience (CMX) portfolio to include new wireless access points and a new partnership with Facebook it says will help businesses better understand their customers and create more targeted marketing campaigns.

The new solution, called Cisco CMX for Facebook Wi-Fi, allows users to access Wi-Fi networks in retail stores, hotels and other business venues by logging into Facebook and checking-in, either publicly or privately, to that specific location from their Facebook account.

According to Cisco, the benefits of CMX for Facebook Wi-Fi are two-fold. First, it makes it easier for users to access Wi-Fi networks by letting them sign-in through a familiar platform -- Facebook -- rather than having to set up a new user name and password, like many businesses require.

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Secondly, it provides a way for the businesses to learn more about their customers, not only in terms of demographics, but how they move throughout their venue. These geo-location capabilities are provided through Cisco's Mobility Services Engine -- a component of CMX -- that leverages Cisco access points and controllers to detect and trace the presence of mobile devices as they move throughout a venue.

For retailers, this capability could be used to identify the parts of their stores that receive the most traffic, while a hospital or hotel, for instance, could use this to push out location-based services to help customers or patients find their way.

"Think of a retail location where, literally, with the appropriate privacy protections, you could watch and see what a consumer wants out of your store, and what they don't, and increase your sales that way," said Cisco CEO John Chambers during his keynote address Wednesday at Interop 2013.

As for demographics, CMX for Facebook Wi-Fi can help businesses identify the age and gender of each user accessing their network, along with his or her "likes" on Facebook.

Chris Spain, vice president of product management for Cisco's Enterprise Networking group, stressed that, while one of the primary aims of CMX for Facebook Wi-Fi is to help businesses learn more about their customers, user privacy is still a priority. Businesses will not have access to a user's actual Facebook profile and will only receive high-level, aggregate data on that user, Spain said.

"This is done, importantly, in an aggregate fashion, and I want to really highlight that that's the case, because there are a lot of privacy concerns floating around," Spain said. "We don't necessarily want to be tracking people."

NEXT: Opportunities Go Beyond Just Connectivity

In fact, a recent Cisco study suggests customers are actually looking for a more personalized shopping experience. According to Cisco's 2013 Customer Experience Report, 65 percent of the consumers surveyed said they are comfortable receiving information based on their location in a store, while 39 percent said they would even be comfortable revealing their personal income in exchange for more personalized discounts and promotions.

For Cisco partners, Cisco's Spain said CMX for Facebook Wi-Fi represents an opportunity to not only help with implementation but also perform broader network upgrades and refreshes, as organizations look to increase capacity and support a greater number of mobile users.

"There's a fantastic systems integration opportunity over and above just providing raw connectivity," Spain told CRN.

Cisco also announced Wednesday a new Catalyst 3650 switch and Aironet 3700 802.11ac access point it says are designed to help businesses manage these high-density wireless environments.

PUBLISHED Oct. 2, 2013