The need for a managed Wi-Fi solution
According to Cisco’s Visual Networking Index, more than half of all monthly traffic from mobile-connected devices will be offloaded to the fixed network by means of Wi-Fi and other solutions by 2018. But implementing a building-wide Wi-Fi system isn’t a simple or budget-friendly task. Many small-to-medium sized enterprises struggle with the complexity of deploying such systems, and face a steep learning curve to manage a high performing infrastructure. Still, smaller enterprises want the security and visibility of enterprise-level Wi-Fi without the IT expertise that is required.
There is a large gap between enterprise grade and consumer grade access points (APs), according to PowerCloud Systems. Additionally, management and security also lag behind with consumer grade APs, so it is especially important for smaller businesses to upgrade their systems.
A managed solution can help
WLAN equipment makers have recently begun to offer simplified management and operations models with enterprise features to small enterprises. This shift has largely been defined by the change from hardware in controllers and management appliances to a cloud-based approach. The cloud offers more simplified management as well as lower-cost implementation, reducing a company’s capital expenditures, or capex.
These less expensive and easier to manage tools includes hardware procurement, device availability, installation and notification SLAs, an integrated management infrastructure, reporting, managed implementation/test/turn-up, and ongoing management, according to Verizon Wireless.
They give customers the ability to monitor their network using real-time statistics which provide information on usage, security, performance, and capacity.
7Signal gives its take on the top requirements for a successful “managed Wi-Fi” deployment:
- Ease of deployment– managed Wi-Fi services must be easy to deploy. Cloud-based solutions have evolved to address many of the challenges, enabling a plug and play infrastructure that is easy to get up and running quickly. The best solutions fit different environments, whether indoor or outdoor areas, large or small, with a consistent architecture.
- Measuring the customer experience– a huge challenge is understanding the quality of the customer experience. Are end-users able to attach to the network? What data rate are they using? Can they achieve the performance that enable their applications to work well? Are they able to reach web sites and server locations and what is the quality of experience with those sites? The Wi-Fi network management system won’t tell you this without the assistance of a performance management solution.
- SLA-based reporting– most service contracts contain Service Level Agreement (SLA) metrics. Basic SLA metrics such as uptime and response time parameters are usually required, and now businesses are asking for SLAs pertaining to the customer experience (throughput, delay, jitter, packet loss, and voice quality). It helps when the WLAN performance dashboards and reports are organized to provide the SLA metrics so this information is easily conveyed.
- Centralized troubleshooting– a managed service that requires truck rolls to address issues is doomed to struggle with response times, finger pointing and costs. With comprehensive centralized management, issues can be detected proactively before the customer complains, and resolved without the time and cost to send someone on site. The best solutions provides ways to sectionalize issues – is it the client, the Wi-Fi or the wired network? Even more important is automated data analysis that can provide the steps required for problem resolution.
- Scalability– managed services are cost effective only if they can scale. A solution must support multiple customers and grow easily for large deployments. Many enterprise systems struggle with the concepts of hierarchy and information filtering, but solutions built with the service provider in mind incorporate these concepts into their architecture from day one.
Some organizations don’t have the in-house IT expertise or resources to design, deploy, and manage a Wi-Fi network. That’s where a managed solution can help. Here are some additional qualities to look for in a managed Wi-Fi solution, according to MegaPath.
Look for a Wi-Fi solution that will support both a private Wireless LAN for employees and other internal users and a public WiFi network for customers and other guests—using the same access points for both,
- Advanced technology from an industry leader
As you shop for providers, ask whether the solution integrates the latest in network monitoring technology and can be managed remotely. Access points should support more than 100 users each and feature advanced, enterprise-class emerging-generation wireless technologies. Ideally, the Managed WiFi Access Points will receive the latest firmware and software updates—without your intervention—over the Web.
- Diverse product portfolio
To simplify vendor management, consider looking for a provider that offers more than just WiFi. Other, related services you may need to support your business include broadband, networking, voice, managed security, and cloud services
A fully-managed use case
Last year, Rogers Communications announced new managed services aimed at the medium-sized enterprise markets, “opening up a new umbrella for its subscription model services that it intends to grow wider in the near future.”
The Canadian telecommunications company now offers fully-managed Wi-Fi as a service and what it’s calling a Rapid Application Development platform. The platform will have pre-built solutions for specific verticals, such as the retail industry, that help gather analytics about customer interaction with technology touch points and take action on that information.
Rogers executives billed its new managed services offerings as a way for enterprises to relieve their own IT staff from keeping the lights on and instead have them focus on creating business value.
“Things like IT infrastructure and network services should be no different from other utilities run inside your organization,” said Nitin Kawale, president of the enterprise business unit at Rogers. “Our goal is to fundamentally disrupt the industry with leapfrog products and services.”
For its Wi-Fi as a service offering, Rogers will handle everything from setting up access points and switches on site to managing them remotely and ensuring security. Patches and upgrades are delivered through the cloud automatically. Businesses will pay for the service via a subscription model and the monthly price will include installation. Rogers didn’t release pricing details yet – that’s planned for the go-live date about a month from now.
“Wi-Fi within your business is no longer a nice to have, it’s mandatory,” says Paul Monaghan, director of cloud and managed services at Rogers. “If you want your employees to collaborate, you need Wi-Fi to do that.”