wifio™ Crowdsensing
Technology Contributing to the Pandemic Fight
February 2021 Panagiotis Papageorgiou,
Software Engineer, Intracom Telecom
COVID-19 and Wi-Fi

The COVID-19 outbreak has created a worldwide state of emergency, challenging governments, municipalities and businesses alike with finding effective solutions to create a safe environment for citizens, staff and customers. Health systems all over the world have been overwhelmed by the spread of the virus forcing governments to proceed with lockdowns in most countries. When cities and businesses reopen, it is done with rigorous mandated government and health agency requirements for social distancing. In an effort to ease the situation, public and private sectors are trying to show their social responsibility.

One such example is the Federal Communications Commission's "Keep Americans Connected" pledge signed by Telecommunication Companies in the USA. As part of this pledge, these companies provide free services to students in their coverage areas and free public Wi-Fi hotspots that students could access for some portion of each day while sitting in their cars or otherwise being physically isolated from others in their houses.

However, more ways in which technology can aid are sought after. Intracom Telecom's wifio™ latest CrowdSensing module enables Wi-Fi operators with multi-vendor network topology to be notified about crowd concentration in the vicinity of their Access Point devices, allowing them to aid in respecting appropriate social distancing regulations and fighting the pandemic.

Crowdsensing & Monitoring By Telecom Operators

Every Wi-Fi device, regardless of whether they are connected to a network or not, periodically broadcasts probe messages in its vicinity, revealing its current status and certain identification details about it. Enterprise grade Access Points that are managed through WLAN Controllers are able to capture these messages and relay them to their WLAN Controllers. Wi-Fi operators with their networks of enterprise Access Points that span densely populated cities, could make use of these collections of Wi-Fi probes to estimate whether certain Access Points are flooded with different probe messages from devices, therefore getting indications if the Access Points' area of vicinity is crowded.

wifio™ CrowdSensing builds upon this idea by being able to communicate with a wide range of different WLAN Controllers used by Wi-Fi operators to manage their Access Points and retrieve aggregated statistics from them, revealing the number of Wi-Fi devices that are near each Access Point. Moreover, wifio™ CrowdSensing does not simply retrieve these statistics in an automated and uniform way, it also offers a configurable alerting system that allows relevant groups of email holders to be notified when a significant increase in crowd concentration is detected. Consequently, these features enable operators to effectively aid in the battle against COVID-19 and also do so in a totally anonymous, non-GDPR infringing way, since wifio™ CrowdSensing strictly gathers and stores data from WLAN Controllers that only reveal the number of Wi-Fi devices around an Access Point device, with no unique personal information about their owners whatsoever.

At the moment, Intracom Telecom works closely with AOTEC, an association of several regional Service Providers in Spain that jointly form a large network of multi-vendor Wi-Fi Access Points across the country. AOTEC is looking for ways to aid with the deterrence of COVID-19 and is considering wifio™ CrowdSensing, given of course the fact that Intracom Telecom's platform is already deployed in Spain, following the launch of the MEGARED Roaming Wi-Fi service, powered by Intracom Telecom's wifio™ platform.

wifio™ Crowdsensing Application Stack

In order to offer the aforementioned features and ensure its efficiency, wifio™ CrowdSensing includes a set of different application components with well-defined roles. For explanatory purposes, the wifio™ CrowdSensing application stack can be divided into 3 layers:

  • the Data Gathering Components
  • the Control Components, and
  • the Dashboard Components

Each section of components cooperates with another layer, as needed, with a bidirectional flow of data between them.

Going into details, the Data Gathering Components layer consists of the Wi-Fi Probe Collectors, the OpenDistro ElasticSearch database and the wifio™ AccessPointManager application.

A Wi-Fi probe Collector, as its name implies, is a lightweight agent that periodically queries the WLAN Controller of an Operator and receives information about the number of Wi-Fi client devices that surround each of its Access Points. Currently, wifio™ CrowdSensing implements Wi-Fi probe Collectors for Aruba, Cambium, Ubiquity and Cisco Meraki (Cloud based) WLAN Controllers that separately work to extract data and store them in the OpenDistro ElasticSearch time series database in a uniform manner.

One of the core advantages of wifio™ CrowdSensing's decoupled architecture is the ease with which new WLAN Controller Vendors can be supported by it, simply by writing new Wi-Fi Probe Collector agents for them.

Continuing with final Data Gathering component, wifio™ AccessPointManager, allows Wi-Fi operators to register their WLAN Controllers with it and manage them from a centralized interface. Furthermore, for each registered WLAN Controller, crucial information is automatically gathered about its Access Points, such as their Geographical Coordinates.

Moving on to the Control Components, this layer contains the OpenDistro ElasticSearch Alert Engine as well the CrowdSensing Backend application. The OpenDistro ElasticSearch Alert Engine enables Administrators to configure Notifications that will be triggered when certain data begin to appear in the database and email predefined groups of recipients with relevant messages.

On the other hand, the CrowdSensing Backend application, has the role of aggregating the data previously stored in OpenDistro ElasticSearch and the AccessPointManager application and is able to create new data feeds that showcase the number of devices found near the geographical coordinates of each Access Point. Last but not least, this application automatically configures the AccessPointManager application as well as the Alert Engine Notifications system previously detailed in order to meet the needs of the Operator.

Finally but most importantly, in the Dashboard Components, in order to avoid directly using the more technical-oriented interface of the CrowdSensing Backend application, the CrowdSensing Dashboard offers a simplified and intuitive user-friendly interface. Using the Dashboard, Wi-Fi operators can register their WLAN Controllers, see information about their Access Points and configure alerts without directly configuring any of the previous components. Moreover, interactive maps are presented that showcase how crowded each Access Point is by using an appropriate color to signify status (green for non-crowded, red for crowded and so on).


During these challenging times, Intracom Telecom, is showing its social responsibility by providing its wifio™ CrowdSensing solution that enables municipalities, governments, healthcare systems, enterprises and other Wi-Fi operators in aiding with adherence to the regulations for social distancing and limiting the spread of the disease through the use of their Wi-Fi networks.

This solution will be vital in the months to come as it will allow people to move around safely, not being afraid of getting infected, providing thus valuable safety information and keeping the public healthy, all in a totally anonymized and GDPR-compliant manner.

Furthermore, wifio™ CrowdSensing's decoupled architecture easily allows it to be integrated with future Access Point or WLAN Controllers from different vendors, a factor that will surely prove useful in the hands of Wi-Fi operators around the world, who wish to support the fight against the pandemic, but are also looking for ways to leverage their Wi-Fi investments.

Intracom Telecom's efforts, however, do not end here. The wifio™ CrowdSensing solution is continuously being enhanced with new features such as heat maps of activity and alerting Wi-Fi owners about congestion in boarding queues of airports, among others, that will enable it to further aid in this time of crisis.

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