The demand on the wireless local area network (WLAN) is growing — and organizations should consider cloud-managed Wi-Fi, which shifts IT responsibilities to the cloud, from provisioning to troubleshooting and configuration. Indeed, cloud-managed Wi-Fi is one of the fastest growing segments of the WLAN market, according to IDC. The research firm expects the cloud-managed WLAN infrastructure market to reach a 38.8 per cent compounded annual growth rate through 2018.
Wireless connectivity is often considered critical to today’s businesses — and should it be managed by a third party?
The answer, in many cases, is yes. Most corporate wireless LANs were originally designed to support one device per employee. But today’s work environment means that WLANs have to support more users, more devices, and more bandwidth. The onset of bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policies and the rise of the remote workforce can make it challenging to manage a Wi-Fi network that meets the needs of users (a speedy, seamless experience) and the business (security and manageability).
That’s not to say it’s for everyone. Businesses that have sunk a lot of money into legacy infrastructure or have stringent security requirements may be more hesitant to make the move to managed Wi-Fi.
But it’s an increasingly attractive option for smaller shops that don’t have IT staff, as well as highly distributed organizations with remote branches or campus environments. That could include retail stores, healthcare facilities and school districts, among others.
In those environments, managed Wi-Fi can deliver enterprise-grade wireless without the cost of enterprise-grade wireless — or the need to hire extra IT staff. By paying a monthly subscription fee, they have access to the latest and greatest, without having to invest in infrastructure (shifting it from a capital expense to an operational one).
And that makes sense for any business being asked to do more with less — particularly small and mid-sized businesses without the budget or skilled staff to build, manage and maintain an on-premises wireless network. With a managed solution, there’s no need to purchase specialized software or additional hardware, such as WLAN controllers.
That also offloads management headaches to a third party. Network admins don’t have to support servers or perform backups — this can be handled by the managed services provider, via the cloud. This also goes for security: The network is continuously scanned for security threats, and updates and patches can be delivered automatically.
Network admins can then control the network from a central location through a browser-based dashboard. Benefits include the ability to remotely manage a wide area network (WAN), quickly activate new management features, and improve scalability for more devices, according to a recent poll by TechTarget.
Since all locations can be configured the same way, all users — regardless of location — have access to the same high-quality service. So that branch office in rural Manitoba offers the same speedy Wi-Fi as in the Toronto headquarters, for example.
But managed Wi-Fi offers more than connectivity these days, and it’s worth considering how a managed service can provide added value to the business. Wi-Fi-enabled point-of-sale applications, for example, can be used to serve customers in a retail environment; it can also help employees track inventory on the fly.
Many businesses offer free Wi-Fi to their customers via a guest portal; with managed Wi-Fi, they can easily collect data and analyze customer interactions, gaining valuable insights into foot traffic, dwell time and customer behaviour.
They can even use that data to push targeted offers to customers via their mobile phones. If a customer is using in-store Wi-Fi, for example, the retailer could send a coupon for a specific product.
Of course, these capabilities could also be built in-house, but that takes time and money. Some managed service providers offer pre-built platforms for specific verticals, such as retail, so their clients can quickly assemble apps that offer customer analytics, without any upfront costs.
Wi-Fi simply becomes another utility, paid for like any other monthly bill — albeit one that can add a lot of value to the business. For any business with legacy wireless infrastructure that isn’t capable of meeting future Wi-Fi demands (or even current demands), it might be time to consider a managed Wi-Fi solution.
It’s more than keeping the Wi-Fi up and running — it’s about creating new business value.