By Jeffrey Schwartz
Business of all sizes of all sizes will be candidates to evaluate their wireless networks in 2019 as the demand for available, reliable and faster connectivity expands with the growth of connected applications and the rollout of new technologies.
Even enterprises customers that have mature Wi-Fi infrastructures have upgrade cycles to ensure they’re secure and able to handle the latest network speeds.
Many enterprises will start laying the groundwork for considering the implications of new standards such as 802.11ax aka Wi-Fi 6, the buildout of 5G networks and how capabilities such as Zigbee for smart-connected IoT devices will play.
Meanwhile, there’s growing demand by SMBs of all sizes, from local pizza parlors and auto repair shops to small offices, dental offices, public libraries and houses of worship. Many of these small businesses still have no – or limited – Wi-Fi, but are increasingly realizing that offering reliable access to customers and visitors is becoming an expectation.
The SMB is becoming a key battleground, according to industry analysts.
IDC’s Brandon Butler
“Pretty much all the wireless vendors have a midmarket and SMB-focused platform now, even with Cisco with Meraki and Aruba,” said IDC analyst Brandon Butler.
Among those recently to put a new stake into the SMB market is Linksys, the high-end consumer Wi-Fi equipment provider that Belkin acquired from Cisco six years ago. Linksys’ entry to the SMB market included its Cloud Manager and two-ceiling or wall-mountable wireless access points, suited for businesses with fewer than 100 employees.
Wayne Newton, director of Linksys’ commercial business, argued that SMB offerings by enterprise network vendors including Cisco, HPE’s Aruba and others are often out of reach for those customers who use consumer-grade alternatives.
|Throughout the fourth quarter of 2018, as part of our “In Focus” series, we are featuring a series of galleries designed to help partners grow their businesses in 2019 and beyond.
“It’s a huge market and it’s really underserved,” Newton said of small businesses.
Adding or improving connectivity isn’t the only component of the Wi-Fi opportunity. Customers also are realizing that they need to put controls on that access, whether it’s how to allocate bandwidth to making sure their Wi-Fi networks are secure and not putting them at risk for intruders or the spread of malicious code by devices that aren’t adequately protected. Earlier this year, the Wi-Fi Alliance certified the latest wireless security spec, WPA3, which offers enterprises 192-bit security.
Industrywide revenue growth of Wi-Fi equipment is only in the single digits, though IDC is forecasting a 4.6 percent compounded annual growth rate (CAGR) through 2022, when revenue is expected to reach $12 billion, up from $9.5 billion in 2017.
The growth rate among businesses and enterprises will outpace the consumer segment, with a five-year CAGR of 5.5 percent, translating to a projected $7.5 billion in 2022. Cisco, the market leader, extended its strong position last quarter to command a 46 percent share of the market, up from 44.7 percent over the third calendar quarter of 2017, according to the December 2018 IDC Tracker report.
Cisco’s gain came at the expense of HPE’s Aruba, a distant but firm No. 2, whose share dropped despite a 10.7 percent year-over-year increase in revenue — due to a sequential drop. Along with Cisco and Aruba, Ruckus, Ubiquiti and Huawei were among the five largest wireless LAN equipment providers in terms of market share during the third quarter of this year.
Scroll through the gallery below that highlights seven technologies and market trends that will shape the wireless networking agenda in 2019.
The New Name Game for Wireless Standards
Every few years a new wireless LAN standard comes along with a common set of protocols to ensure that any network device can interoperate with all the different access points. Each new set of standards has come with improved speed and other features to provide a better mobile experience. But they also are defined by an alphabet soup of letters.
Now those definitions are about to become simpler, or some might argue, more confusing. The Wi-Fi Alliance this summer decided that with the latest new spec, 802.11ax, that it was time for a simpler way to define it, along with the past ones.
As a result, 802.11ax is now called Wi-Fi 6. The current standard, 802.11ac, is Wi-Fi 5, and 802.11n is Wi-Fi 4. The change, announced in October, will result in new logos and branding for the specs.
“The new naming convention is more consumable and understandable,” said Lissa Hollinger, Aruba’s VP of portfolio marketing.
The Wi-Fi Alliance created new logos for equipment and network providers to identify the wireless protocols their respective products and services support.
Early Wi-Fi 6 Rollouts Begin
As partners and customers try to acclimate to the new names, several vendors have already announced support for the newest Wi-Fi 6 standard. Wi-Fi 6 will provide faster uploads and downloads — in some cases up to four times.
Wi-Fi 6 applies higher data rates and steaming capability using orthogonal frequency division multiple access (OFDMA), providing lower latency to data uplinks and downlinks.
Just as important, WI-Fi 6 is optimized for crowded locations where numerous devices are simultaneously connected to the network. The standard is expected to be officially certified in the first quarter of 2019, though Wi-Fi vendors have already launched several new products.
Aerohive claims it was the first to launch
new Wi-Fi 6 wireless access points with three different offerings: the AP630, A650 and A650X. Asus, Cisco, D-Link, HPE’s Aruba Networks and TP-Link have also launched Wi-Fi 6 gear, and many others are expected to roll out infrastructure that supports the latest Wi-Fi standard.
As with any new Wi-Fi standard, the infrastructure is always released before the devices that can support it. Experts anticipate that OEMs indicate plans for adding Wi-Fi 6 for their devices, but they’re not expected to arrive before the latter part of the year.
Steve Shaffer, CEO of IT services provider Zunesis
, said many of his clients happen to consist of stadiums and convention centers, where Wi-Fi 6 is designed for such dense environments with numerous simultaneous connections.
Despite the fact there aren’t devices that can connect at the new speeds, many of Shaffer’s customers want to be ready.
“Normally we build the highways before we let the cars on the highway,” he said. “So, we build the infrastructure in anticipation of the client the transmitters. A lot of the early adopters think they will really benefit from this and we're going to be to be working with them in the first half of the year to do proof of concepts and to get that infrastructure refined and laid out.”
WPA3 to Give Major Boost to Wireless Security
Wi-Fi connections will become more secure as more devices and infrastructure implement the first major improvement in wireless encryption over a decade.
The new WPA3
, certified this year, provides and disallows legacy security protocols and requires Protected Management Frames (PMF)
, which protect against eavesdropping and forging. WPA3 consists of two primary components: WPA3-Perspnal and WPA3-Enterprise.
WPA3-Personal creates stricter requirements for the types of passwords that users can create, while supporting Secure Authentication of Password Equals (SAE) to provide added protections against individuals and machines that try to guess passwords, replacing the Pre-shared Key (PSK) in WPA2-Personal. At the same time, it lets users choose passwords that are easy to remember. At the infrastructure layer, WPA3-Enterprise offers the option to implement tools that support 192-bit encryption.
The first WPA3-compliance products have only recently started rolling out from the likes of Dell Technologies, Intel, HPE’s Aruba Networks, Marvel, Qualcomm and Synology,
Access Points Add Zigbee, Bluetooth 5 Radios for IoT and Smart Devices
It should come as little surprise that the growth prospects for Zigbee look strong, considering the diverse set of devices and networks that support it — from the likes of Amazon
(in its various Echo devices), Comcast, Huawei, Schneider Electric and Samsung
In addition to Zigbee, many of the new wireless access points add support for the new Bluetooth 5 and Bluetooth Low Energy.
Combining Zigbee and Bluetooth 5 addresses 74 percent of the IoT in use, said Aruba’s Hollinger.
“We're getting relatively close to Universal support for all IoT devices,” she said.
Aruba, Juniper Networks and Samsung are among those that have recently added Zigbee radios in some of their wireless access points.
“Zigbee could be used in various IoT automation scenarios,” said IDC’s Butler. “Think of hospitality, where it can be used to control door locks using the same wireless infrastructure,” he said.
Making Wireless More Green
As customers continue to roll out or expand their wireless networks, all of those access points consume power. In many scenarios, the access points could be in overdrive for portions of the day, yet idle at other times.
Aruba is among those that has started addressing that in a new way with Green Mode, a feature it will add to its NetInsights software in the first quarter of 2019. The software can automatically put the wireless access points into sleep mode, when they’re not in use.
Electric consumption can drop from 21 watts at full PoE power to just 6 watts in sleep mode.
“The savings might seem slight, but every bit adds to the bottom line, noted
Patrick LaPorte, senior director of cloud solutions marketing at Aruba.Zunesis
’ Shaffer, whose company manages Wi-Fi networks for convention centers and other pubic facilities, believes many of his clients would benefit from that.
“If we look at the usage of those facilities, I'm hoping we can save them 30 percent by using Green Mode versus having those APs on full time,” he said. “Hopefully it's even better.”
Demand Rises for Wireless Activity Analytics
Many wireless solutions now offer user telemetry that can provide customers with useful data on which to perform analytics. Gladys Kline, national sales director for presales engineering at CoreBTS
, a Cisco gold partner, is among those who is seeing useful ways to apply analytics from wireless networks.
In higher ed for example, Kline said CoreBTS has had numerous cases for guiding visitors around campuses to specific offices, events and activities, or in retail, if someone is spending a lot of time in one area, pushing them a coupon for a relevant product.
“We're taking data and doing more analytics around that, and that's becoming more and more prevalent in the wireless space,” Kline said.
Guest Access to Wireless Networks Adds Controls
Many small businesses have wireless networks that either lock out guests unless they’re given a password, or they’re left wide open for anyone to connect. Solution providers and MSPs increasingly are being called on to create guest accounts to accommodate their customers or visitors while not letting them pose a security risk or overuse the capacity of the networks.
The ability to provide these controls has existed for some time in the management tools of enterprise wireless network systems. Solutions from wireless network gear – such as Linksys and Ubiquiti – targeted at SMBs, have made it easier and affordable for partners to deliver these tighter controls, which include a simplified process of creating a landing page for guests to use to register.
“Previously, many companies were providing an open SSID into their environment to let guests [log on],” Kline said, “but now we are seeing clients request that their guests be required to present credentials or at least provide some type of login information, versus just making it wide open.”