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Barely a year after HP announced plans to strengthen its WLAN capabilities with the acquisition of Aruba Networks, Brocade has just revealed it plans to buy WLAN specialist Ruckus and Dell has announced a partnership with Aerohive. The coalescing around WLAN operations is interesting because it comes at a time when the overall WLAN market is standing still with IDC reporting the combined enterprise and consumer WLAN market declined by 0.3% in 2015. The enterprise WLAN market grew by a less than inspiring 3.7% in that period.
IDC ascribed the reduction in the annual growth rate to “the confluence of two factors: a hold on new WLAN projects due to the uncertain short-term trajectory of the global economy and market anticipation of the full availability of Wave 2 802.11ac products”. It noted that the 802.11ac standard accounts for 54.5% of dependent access point unit shipments and 71.3% of dependent access point revenues, and the adoption rate from 802.11n is notably faster than from 802.11a/b/g to 802.11n.
“For the full year 2015, 802.11ac accounted for 51.0% of dependent access point shipments and 66.1% of dependent access point revenues,” IDC reported. “Increased demand on enterprise WLANs will continue to be a driving factor in this transition, especially as enterprise mobility use cases proliferate and IoT applications move into the mainstream.”
Mike Leibovitz, director at the office of the CTO at Extreme Networks, agrees the adoption of Wi-Fi will continue to grow over the next 12 months and “the pressures on the technology using it will be greater. In response we’ll see uplift in demand for 802.11ac, to help provide the higher levels of capacity required, as well as ‘experience-driven’ solutions around things like user engagement, quality of experience, and monetisation that are incorporated into Wi-Fi systems globally and across verticals”.
Garry Growns, sales director at Daisy Wholesale, says more and more businesses will provide connectivity over a wireless network in 2016, “both instead of or to complement the traditional hardwired network. Connectivity over WLAN is rapidly becoming an as fast and secure alternative, providing far greater flexibility combined with being far simpler to deploy”.
Alastair Slay, European market development manager at ZyXEL, believes “we’re in the middle of some fundamental WLAN market shifts right now which will continue to shape the market and drive its growth over the next 12 months”. He highlights the move to 802.11ac and “an increasing recognition of the fact that specialist technology is needed to deliver a successful WLAN network in certain environments”. He predicts growth in the WLAN market will also be influenced by the move to cloud networking. “Many businesses are putting their office infrastructure into the cloud, so it makes sense for them to put their networking infrastructure there too,” Slay says.
What does it mean for the channel?
Leibovitz thinks there is a “huge opportunity for channel partners” so long as they can meet the high expectations around WiFi. He says partners “should be thinking Wi-Fi first when approaching prospective customers; it’s the de facto connectivity solution their buyers are seeking”. But that doesn’t mean they can overlook the need for wired networks. instead it “puts more emphasis on them as every wireless network requires a wired network to go with it – it simply can’t be overlooked”.
Growns says WLANs need to be simple to understand and buy “to be fit for the channel”. If they have the right proposition, “WLANs are a natural progression for those in the channel that currently sell LAN solutions, as well as those more traditional resellers that offer calls, lines and broadband packages, as WLAN can be easily bundled in”. Daisy Wholesale has structured a ‘pay as you go’ WLAN service that “falls nicely” within the growing recurring revenue model.
He urges channel partners that aren’t providing WLAN services not to miss out. If they aren’t offering their customers this type of service, “someone else soon will”. Growns says WLAN needs to be quick and easy to order and price, including complete installation, configuration and commissioning. But it “mustn’t be at the expense of a loss in service functionality. For businesses of all sizes, features such as secure access, data capture and content filtering must be included. This is the complete proposition and it should be the bare minimum. As with all solutions in the channel, it must be simple to enable the partners to package it up and sell it”.
Slay at ZyXEL observes that 802.11ac is generating opportunities for channel partners in new business and with companies that want to upgrade their existing legacy networks. But partners face a battle to meet user expectations in challenging scenarios, such as high density environments. “In a conference room, with 50 people, with each person connected on both their laptop and their phone, how do you get the bandwidth needed to every device when it’s needed?,” he asks. But “arguably the biggest driver of opportunity into our channel partners” is the trend of moving networking to the cloud.
Moving into the cloud enables partners to manage and monitor multiple sites, reduce complexity and shorten deployment times. “With many channel partners increasingly looking to offer annual services on top of their hardware services, moving into the cloud will also create recurring revenue opportunities,” Slay adds.
Jennifer Capewell, senior international channel marketing manager at Aerohive, agrees. “With more businesses expected to move Wi-Fi management to the cloud, channel partners have a great opportunity to add value,” she claims. “It allows them to provide simplified and streamlined operations, configuration, monitoring and troubleshooting for all elements of customers’ networks, allowing them to offer a complete management solution.”
She believes cloud networking also gives channel partners “the opportunity to help organisations change how they operate. They can now enable businesses to be more efficient and the insights gained from Wi-Fi can give them additional information, applications and insights which they can use to better engage with customers. As customer service is the holy grail for any business, the channel partners that best support this will lead the way in the WLAN networking space.”