What’s new with WiFi?

 If customers are complaining wifi is painful to deploy and unreliable to use, they’re doing it wrong.

 Can you remember coax networks? These were cumbersome beasts, requiring finicky cables and countless peripherals to make them work. Why is the network down? Is it a faulty cable? A busted t-piece? A dud terminator? Maybe someone’s network card isn’t working. Then there were UTP cables, with their phone-esque jacks, which made things a lot easier. That said, you still had to pull cables through ceilings and ensure an endpoint for every device.

Then came WiFi. when a decision was made in the 1980s to release unlicensed spectrum for short-distance communications, it opened the door to wireless networks, with WiFi emerging as a standard in 1991. At first, these were clumsy and, until a decade ago, wifi wasn’t even commonplace. Today, the majority of user devices can’t connect to a network other than through an antenna.

Wifi is the new black

It has now reached the stage where WFfi is becoming the norm among businesses, says Niel Malan, head of Cloud Solutions at Jurumani Solutions.

“We’ve seen a trend towards a WiFii-first approach in many organisations and in some cases, the guys are going as extreme as wifi only. They only deploy cables for fixed assets such as printers. The major reason for that is the progression of reliable access and good speeds. That access has gotten to the point where it’s close enough to an approximation of a cable connection in speed, reliability and performance.”

Ease of use isn’t the only factor – WiFi is actually capable of more than a cable network could attempt. More on that later. First, there’s the ongoing concern: yes, WiFfi is great, but it also has a reputation for being inconsistent.

Yet don’t blame this on the technology. Instead, maybe ask if enough is being invested into the WiFi. The market has been flooded with WiFi network devices, many cheap models aimed at small residential setups. Businesses often buy a WiFi device based on the price and not its features. But this is like buying a car with a small engine: with one person and no load, that car will be nippy. Yet start adding some weight…WiFi is the same. We routinely underestimate how many devices we connect to an access point (Ap).

“I normally tell people a simple thing: don’t buy the cheapest WiFi Ap,” says Henk Olivier, MD of Ozone Information Technology Solutions. “When it comes to speed and such, entry-level Aps don’t handle performance well. I’ve tested it; for every computer you add, you take away 10% of performance, and that’s conservative. It depends on the application. You can almost divide it by 10 every time you add a device.

What Wifi offers

So that’s good news for the channel – people shouldn’t buy cheap WiFi hardware for their systems. Adding to this is a growing mid-market segment of devices, where the equivalent of a $100 can deliver a very worthy device. But there are more gains to be made. WiFi is a fast-moving technology with massive implications on both productivity and security. Successful WiFi products and services are increasingly about the deployment and management of the networks.

Google is one of several companies trying to scratch this itch with routers and Aps that are easy to configure and deploy. It relates to a general trend in WiFi and one seen as its major recent advancement, says Malan. “One of the big moves is to cloud-based management of WiFi networks. Best practice is used to build the backend platform, maintained by the vendor. You just use the portions you need to customise the network. Because it’s managed in the cloud, we’re seeing more vendors making devices resembling an IoT deployment. Thousands of devices reporting on the activity of other devices, all being pushed to the cloud,” he says.

This is potent on several levels. It creates better analytics and reporting, plus the data can be used in artificial intelligence models that improve efficiencies. Another aspect is security. Unlike a cable network, which is just a plug that goes into a device, a wifi Ap can be much more sophisticated. for example, some Aps can be configured to have basic policies, such as spotting if a device is jailbroken or not, malan adds.

 “You can now build a distributed processing capability between Aps. That makes for a very scalable solution where processes can be inspected. Is it valid? does it comply? Should it be shaped? All that is offloaded onto the Ap,” he says.

There’s a downside to this, however. Aps are also acting as end-of-life indicators for user devices. A major reason why WiFi networks will reject older devices is due to security. even though users don’t have to be at the cutting edge, at some point, that old phone will have to be replaced. WiFi is not as egalitarian towards devices as cable networks are.

The managed future

But, what you get in exchange is incredible ease of use, providing the network is well designed. This is often why WiFi networks fail. They aren’t designed properly. If they are, they comfortably match the speeds of cable networks.

This is the other big boon for the channel: companies don’t want to deal with this. They don’t want to build or maintain WiFi networks. In fact, they may not even want to own them, given how quickly the technology can evolve. This, combined with the cloud management capabilities, is the perfect recipe for managed service, says Olivier.

He adds: “It’s better on a managed service solution. The older your Ap gets, the more throughput will bottleneck. It’s also not that secure anymore. A lot of vendors are investing in security both around behaviour and capabilities at the Ap.”

There will always be a place for cheap routers and self-configuration. But that’s at home, where the pace of business isn’t held up by anguished cries of frustration. Among companies, WiFi is fast becoming the must-have technology commodity: they can’t do without it and they don’t want to be in charge of it. Thanks to the superior management and reporting tools, it’s easy to keep customers in the loop, while the cloud backends have made huge advances in troubleshooting devices.

If that doesn't sound like a good business model, what does?


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