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Mist Systems rolls out enterprise-oriented contact tracing services

The Juniper-owned networking company is offering tools for organizations that want to safely bring employees and customers back to their physical locations.
Written by Stephanie Condon, Senior Writer

Leveraging its wifi, virtual Bluetooth LE and analytics technologies, Mist Systems on Thursday announced a series of new services designed to help organizations implement on-site contact tracing. The new services come as organizations of all kinds think about ways to safely bring employees and customers back to their physical locations amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. 

The new services specifically include proximity tracing, journey mapping and hot-zone alerting. All three are included with the Premium Analytics service recently rolled out by Mist, a Juniper-owned company. Premium Analytics gives enterprises visibility into their networks, as well as location-based contextual information about customers and employees -- the kind of information that should be helpful to organizations that want to encourage social distancing and other practices endorsed by public health organizations. 

"Fundamentally, these use cases have been driven by customers," Sujai Hajela, Mist co-founder and Juniper SVP, said to ZDNet. "What they know about is their operational needs and requirements, and we know what our technology can do... We are putting a filter on what can we deliver on, because this has to work." 

To implement the services, a new customer would need to deploy Mist access points, in conjunction with wifi or BLE-enabled devices -- such as employees' smartphones or BLE-enabled badges. Existing customers simply need to go to the Mist dashboard to launch the services. 

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The proximity tracing service relies on the ID of a device, like a MAC address or Bluetooth ID. With that unique identifier, the service tracks when a device has been in close proximity with other devices. If an individual identifies himself or herself as COVID-19 positive, or as experiencing symptoms, an enterprise can quickly identify and notify the other people who were in close proximity with that person. 

Organizations can use the Mist SDK to build an app to collect information from their employees. Mist doesn't process or store any of the data besides the device location information. Hajela stressed that it's fully anonymized and that Mist "never knows about your identity."

Journey mapping similarly relies on device IDs. The service shows customers historical on-site traffic patterns and dwell times for employees who have reported testing positive for COVID-19. This service could be useful, for instance, for helping an organization determine where it needs to conduct deep cleaning. 

Lastly, hot zone alerting tracks the quantity of devices in various locations in real time. An organization can get real-time alerts if too many people have congregated in specific areas of an office or store, for instance. Organizations can also use the service to view trends over time, to identify troublesome areas. This service doesn't require the use of device IDs. 

The hot zone service has been of particular interest among customers, Hajela told ZDNet. A retail customer, he said, recently told him that it's simply "not humanly possible to have a human being looking at this" kind of information -- especially for retailers attempting to deploy solutions at scale. 

Mist has been having conversations about these services with customers across sectors, Hajela said, including retail, higher education and hospitality. One of its early conversations was with an organization that runs a convention center. "They don't expect events to start any time soon, but they do... they want to be ready from a technology perspective," Hajela said. 

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