Enterprise IT departments have learned a lot about wireless in recent years, with one of the primary things being technology changes fast. While many corporate technology buyers are evaluating the costs and benefits of 802.11ac Wi-Fi, chipmakers are already touting their 802.11ad solutions that operate in the 60 GHz band. Qualcomm and Broadcom have both introduced 802.11ad chips this year, and smartphones that support 802.11ad (marketed as WiGig) are expected to hit the market next year.
Wi-Fi that evolves as technology changes is one of the promises of Wi-Fi as a service. This model usually refers to cloud-controlled Wi-Fi access points that can be remotely provisioned and managed, and can be paid for as an operating expense rather than a capital investment.
Silicon Valley’s KodaCloud is a startup devoted exclusively to Wi-Fi as a service. The company wants to make buying Wi-Fi as easy as buying any other office supply, and it promises to upgrade customer equipment and software periodically as part of its service. Recently KodaCloud introduced an outdoor access point, saying customers in industries like hospitality and education need to be able to offer users one network indoors and outdoors.
“KodaCloud is redefining the organizational network,” said Craig Mathias, a principal at analyst firm Farpoint Group. “What we’re seeing here isn’t just the future of Wi-Fi in enterprise, government and beyond, but in fact the redefinition of organizational IT itself away from ever-more boxes and towards easily scalable and very cost-effective services.”
Other Wi-Fi vendors are moving in the same direction. Xirrus sells Wi-Fi as a service to schools around the country, and Ruckus Wireless, which says it is the U.S. hospitality industry’s largest Wi-Fi vendor, has moved most of its network control functionality to the cloud.
Managed service providers have been quick to adopt the new Wi-Fi business model, in part because it helps them sell to customers who are worried about investing today and being left behind tomorrow when technology changes.
“With new devices and technologies emerging every day, our customers constantly face the challenge of delivering fast, flexible Wi-Fi to their users,” said Bob Gentzler, president of Oxen Technology, who noted the Xirrus solution allows Oxen to address customer demand for flexibility and scalability.
Time Warner, Aruba (owned by Hewlett-Packard), Aerohive and Adtran also offer Wi-Fi as a service to enterprise clients. The new business model is making Wi-Fi look more like cellular service from a financial perspective, with monthly bills and equipment that can be upgraded through the service provider when something better comes along.