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AI World Conference & Expo · Boston, MA · December 11-13, 2017

This syndicated post originally appeared at Zeus Kerravala's blog.

Yesterday, Silicon Valley’s biggest shopaholic, Cisco, added to its wireless portfolio when it announced the acquisition of a small company that develops Wi-Fi analytic technologies called ThinkSmart Technologies. ThinkSmart is a Cork, Ireland, based technology company that uses the information it gains from Wi-Fi networks to collect intelligent information such as time of day, traffic patterns and dwell times for mobile users.

There were no financial terms announced, so it’s a safe bet this was a relatively small acquisition primarily meant to add the technology into existing Cisco products.

I like this move by Cisco for a number of reasons. One of them is that it’s based overseas, so Cisco can use part of the huge war chest of cash it has in Europe. Company CEO John Chambers has strongly stated that it would continue to invest in Cisco, but the amount of U.S. investment it does will be limited until the Obama or incoming administration (if different) grants a repatriation holiday on bringing foreign cash back into the country.

“It’s my personal belief that the government is stifling innovation and the economy by not granting this holiday. It’s not just Cisco that is asking for this either. Oracle, Microsoft and others have been pushing hard for this event to occur. Granted there are some risks, so put the proper caveats in place, but take a leadership position on stimulating the economy by granting a repatriation holiday.”

Back to the technology. The primary reason I like this addition to the Cisco portfolio is that it adds significant intelligence into the network to help mobile applications become more predictive in nature. To date, there aren’t really that many good mobile applications. What we have is a bevvy of mini applications where we’ve taken something that is supposed to fit on a 13- or 15-inch screen and reformatted it to fit on a 4-inch screen. Is that mobile? Hardly. To me, a mobile application needs to be uniquely mobile and do things the desktop-based version can’t do. If the application knows who I am, what I’m doing, what others are doing and what traffic patters are like, it can behave differently and optimize it.

For a very basic example, a sports venue might notice a concentration of network devices at a food stand, indicating long lead times. The network could then send a signal to send more staff to that one particular location, allowing the venue to optimize its staffing needs. A more advanced example might be a collaboration application that recognizes the best tools a worker should use based on traffic. Let’s say I wanted to interact with a colleague and clicked on their name. If there was very little traffic, perhaps it brings up a video. If there’s a moderate amount, it would then invoke a VoIP call. If it’s highly congested just bring up a chat window. That’s only possible if the network is smart enough to let the application know how to behave. Adding user, location, GPS and compass intelligence into applications can significantly change the nature of mobile applications and make mobile computing superior to desktop computing.

One last thing to like about this purchase is that although this technology will initially make its way into the Wi-Fi business unit at Cisco, I don’t see why this or similar intelligence couldn’t be worked into the service provider technology group to enhance the performance of mobile applications on 3G/4G networks. That would take augmented reality applications to the next level.

Overall I see this as an acquisition with big potential for Cisco. I understand from a blog posted that it will be part of its developer network market place. It’s no secret that I’ve been critical of Cisco in the area of software developer support, but this should bolster that effort as well.

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Zeus Kerravala

Zeus Kerravala is the founder and principal analyst with ZK Research. Kerravala provides a mix of tactical advice to help his clients in the current business climate and long term strategic advice.
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