A gap in the market and irritating licensing schemesBy CWNP On 05/11/2008 - 7 Comments
People are constantly asking me, "which 802.11n wireless access point or router should I buy for my home?" After questioning them about their needs, they tell me that they want the "good stuff" - not the usual SOHO fare. Of course, the "usual" is Linksys, DLink, NetGear, TrendNet, Belkin, and a few others. There's nothing in particular wrong with equipment from any of these vendors, and most people are perfectly fine using it in their homes or small businesses. But there's a few telecommuters and small business owners that don't mind paying a little extra for something more feature rich and reliable. The problem is that there is no such thing. I have a suggestion.
Now that Cisco, Motorola, Ruckus, Colubris, and a number of other vendors that have autonomous APs (or WLAN routers) have recently introduced 802.11n equipment, it stands to reason that instead of phasing the 802.11a/g equipment out, they could repurpose it into the SOHO market as "high-end" equipment. Sure, SOHO consumers wanting this type of gear wouldn't have the fastest thing on the market, but it would be "tried and true." Manageable, stable, and plenty "fast enough" makes this kind of gear desirable in the SOHO space - especially for small businesses.
The main problem with repurposing equipment like this is its price. When an AP is originally priced at $1200+, it would be like saying to their existing enterprise customers, "we've been ripping you off" for them to sell it for $200 once it has been "repurposed." If they could overcome this "marketing" problem, they would still have to provide a means of distribution. Ruckus has already done this by having a direct-sales store right on their website. Kudos. Other vendors, such as Meru, Trapeze, and Bluesocket would need to flip one of their lightweight (aka thin) APs into an autonomous AP in order to join in on the action.
If nothing else, this would be a great way for vendors to get rid of existing inventory once an item has hit "end of life" status. Support would likely have to be provided via email and forum only to keep costs down. Currently, the gray market takes care of this need. For example, if I wanted such an "enterprise-class" AP for a price far less than retail (say, 50% off), I would go straight to ebay.com. Eventually I'm going to be able to get one. The only problem I have then is support and firmware updates...
<Devin climbs onto soap box>
Many IT professionals get the manufacturer's documentation and firmware updates from their IT industry friends. In fact, most professionals that want to use enterprise-class gear in a SOHO environment won't buy a device that they know they can't get updates for. The way many vendors have started "hiding" their firmware and documentation behind a support login is useless when it comes to security and irritates many customers and/or potential customers. What's worse is when vendors lock their equipment's license codes to a specific box (a very common practice in today's WLAN industry). This simply causes potential customers will look to other vendors.
Potential customers know that without paying dearly for a support contract, licenses will expire and/or boxes can't be upgraded with new features. Vendors look at this as a way of reducing gray market sales, but in reality, it's a great way to run off potential customers. If I bought vendor-A's platform today, used it for 1 year (during the initial support contract period), and then decided to switch to vendor-B's platform, the very first thing I'd think of doing with vendor-A's gear is selling it on eBay for a fair market price. If this equipment had very strict licensing (as mentioned above), it wouldn't bring anything on the open market because it's basically a boat anchor. The ebay buyer, in most cases, can't even purchase a support contract for the equipment since they didn't buy it directly from the manufacturer or through distribution channels.
<Devin steps down from soap box>
The better way of keeping down gray market sales of "not quite obsolete, but not quite cutting edge" equipment is to make it available directly from the manufacturer at a bargain price after its usefulness in the enterprise has run its course. I'd love nothing more than to walk into Best Buy and see a Motorola AP5131 sitting on the shelf! What's even better than seeing it in a retail store is to go to the manufacturer's website and see a Colubris MAP-330 or perhaps a Cisco 1242AG for sale for $200. Call me crazy - I think the idea rocks...and since it's my blog... ;)
There has to be other spins on this as well; certainly this idea could use fine-tuning and isn't the only idea out there for filling this market gap. Another idea is a software controller built on Linux that can be run inside a Microsoft virtual machine that comes with a free 5-AP license and special firmware to flip common SOHO APs into "lightweight APs." I'm just thinking out loud here of course. There's definitely a huge hole in the industry. I'm just interested to see who steps up to the plate and how they fill it.