Observations from the Wi-Fi Mobility Symposium and Wireless Field Day

Observations from the Wi-Fi Mobility Symposium and Wireless Field Day

By CWNP On 02/01/2012 - 30 Comments

I spent the latter half of last week in sunny (compared to Michigan) San Jose at the Wi-Fi Mobility Symposium and Wireless Field Day. Along with 11 other independent delegates, I had the chance to engage several leading WLAN vendors in a fresh dose of technical discussion.

These intense, focused multi-day technical events leave me with more questions than answers sometimes, and processing all the information typically takes several weeks. However, I noticed a few high-level industry trends that I wanted to put into words, if only for my own benefit.
Leading Vendors (nothing new here)
Large vendors have the engineering capacity (or buying power) to be a wireless “everyman” and develop feature rich platforms that solve a broad range of use cases. Cisco and Aruba excel in this area with the most mature and holistic wireless programs available. However, they both also add confusion and customer frustration with overly complex licensing processes and add-on network components. Aruba promised to end the suffering with a new licensing structure. As an industry, let’s hold them accountable.
Startups Need Focus
Smaller startup vendors must choose a path for differentiation. Some, like Ruckus, focus on RF performance, while others, like Meraki and Aerohive, focus on system level intelligence above L2 including features like application shaping, granular firewall control, and user authorization policies. With limited resources and time, these vendors are choosing the product features and focuses that give them the most leverage in the vast sea of Wi-Fi opportunity. Product lines from these vendors are growing in feature richness, but because they are smaller and younger, some features like spectrum analysis, IDS/IPS, and IPv6 support are either absent or adolescent. However, because of their focus and the startup mentality, their development times are usually very quick and their focus on usability is phenomenal. Ruckus, Meraki, and Aerohive all have excellent user interfaces and in their areas of specialty, their products are second to none!!! (yes, three exclamation points!)
Time’s a Wastin’
Traditional wired networking vendors like HP (who was present at WFD2) and Juniper are lost in the wireless fray. With no real product differentiation, they sell run-of-the-mill wireless solutions as an addition to their other primary product lines. Sure, they have unified wired and wireless policies or something like that, but in such an opportunity-laden market, they’re way behind. When it comes to WLAN, you could add Motorola to this mix. If it weren’t for their wide client device penetration in some verticals, they’d be right with HP and Juniper. Even though they’re still selling products, their WLAN play is largely muted.
L1-L7 Wi-Fi?
For many vendors, Wi-Fi is no longer relegated to L1 and L2. Application and system-level intelligence is a major value-add as customers look to control the monstrum mobile (that’s Latin) at the edge. By integrating MDM, application shaping, device provisioning, and VPN at the wireless edge, they’re saving customers a lot of money and hassle that would otherwise come from buying and learning how to use a separate solution for each function. Aggregating layers of solutions into the edge infrastructure is very useful, and will be a significant differentiator for some vendors in 2012.
Expanding Product Lines
In addition to expanding Wi-Fi intelligence above L2, many traditional pure play WLAN vendors are stretching out into other networking areas that are underserved by the larger wired vendors. For example, Aerohive and Meraki both have inexpensive branch router offerings to meet the needs of distributed enterprises. Meraki is also pursuing other types of product expansion more aggressively with security appliances and edge switches too. Other vendors like Ruckus and Aruba have also expanded into switching as well (a while back). As I think about it more, I’m finding that each of these vendors have a unique market strategy that is motivating their product scope. In some cases, vendors are filling a market niche where they already have customers (e.g. distributed enterprises). In other cases, vendors are trying to simplify the deployment (and customer procurement process) of their wireless solution when a suitable wired infrastructure is not already in place. And finally, others are setting out on a more strategic path towards wireless architectural changes.
Whatever their motivations, Wi-Fi is no longer as simple as APs and controllers. Holistic edge networking policies are the big thing today and vendors are utilizing their engineering resources and existing IP to capture this trend.
Final Comments and Suggestions (FCS)
This wireless world is changing fast. Many of us often miss the bigger market shifts because we’re so focused on learning about new protocols and technologies. Sometimes a three-day tech-fest is the best way to get a glimpse of bigger market disruption. Exciting things are happening in Wi-Fi in the next few years. When I shake my magic 8-ball, one theme is consistent: it’s a good time to be in wireless.     Tagged with: mobile, wireless trends, startup

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