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Deploying Wi-Fi As A Service Makes Sense, Here's Why

By Craig Mathias in · Experts · July 13, 2016

Only few years ago, provisioning the Network as a Service (NaaS) would have been considered little more than a crazy idea. Today, however, with the availability of high-performance and reliable network components and shrinking IT budgets, managed services are forming the backbone of many IT efforts: NaaS is taking center stage in many IT strategies, and Wireless as a Service (WaaS) isn’t far behind. This series from contributor Craig Mathias begins with a look at motivations for the NaaS trend, and how (and why) NaaS is evolving to include WaaS. With expectations for Wi-Fi today the same as for electricity, water, and other utilities - that these should be always-available, cost-effective, and simply work – the adoption of WaaS may represent the easiest path for organizations to grow and leverage their networks without spending time worrying about (and dealing with) the details.

There’s a rapidly-emerging and, indeed, very powerful trend within organizational networks, and, increasingly, wireless LANs – the rise of the managed service(s) provider (MSP) and the conversion of what used to be large amounts of capital spending and custom in-house integration into what is often today a very cost-effective services expense.

Software as a service, IT as a service, networking as a service, and, more recently, wireless as a service – yes, all of these, and more, are now reshaping IT and organizational networks, from planning, purchasing, operations, through the entire life-cycle of any given installation. 

Our interest in wireless as a service (WaaS), which we’ll focus on in this series of articles, began with what has been an ongoing research project we’ve been conducting over the past two years. Specifically, we’ve been asking our system supplier, operator, and some end-user clients a simple and yet provocative question: What does the network of 2020 (and, for the more adventurous, 2025, as ten years exceeds even our planning and forecasting horizon) look like?

Yes, it’s still faster/better/cheaper, and improvements in basic technologies, VLSI, manufacturing, and integration that will will continue as has historically been the case. And the fundamental nature and mission of the network really doesn’t change very much – it’s still a necessity, essential to end-user and organizational productivity, with major requirements for availability, reliability, resilience, and cost-effectiveness always present.

What does change, though, is what equipment is required as well as where and how this equipment is provisioned, and, enabled by managed services. Also, the conversion of what used to be capital expense (CapEX) into operating expense (OpEx) has changed.

Expanding on the above, here’s what we’ve learned so far:

  • Cost control is and will remain a dominant requirement. IT budgets have not really recovered from the last recession, and IT spending is now viewed as less strategic and more as overhead. IT and networks remain essential, but rapid advances in technology and accelerating personnel costs must be dealt with more cost-effectively. 
  • Growth remains a major concern. Like successful organizations, networks only grow over time, and this means meeting increasing demands for coverage, capacity, time-bounded traffic, and increasing numbers of users, (especially mobile) devices, and applications must be continually addressed. 
  • Disruptions must be eliminated. Today’s networks are 24/7/365, and any disruptions to service can have an immediate and profound impact on operations, and thus productivity. Such can profoundly affect operations staffs, with demands at time overwhelming.
  • Access is or will become 100% wireless in most organizations - for all forms of communications and all access to information resources. 

So what’s the best way to build infrastructure to meet these demands? 

It’s a given that access points and the PoE Ethernet switches that interconnect them will remain core elements of local infrastructure. Today’s Wave-2 802.11ac APs are truly amazing, even for those of us with a long history in wireless (I remember when there were dozens of wireless LAN suppliers, with none of them offering products that could exceed even a megabit or two peak!). Some of those switches will subsume router, firewall, load balancing, and related functions, and, really, no other local hardware will be required.

Going forward, all remaining required functions can (and likely, we believe, will) move to the Cloud, along with the processing and storage that is at the heart of IT overall.

Management consoles and related functions are already Cloud-based in many cases, with corresponding improvements in cost, convenience, reliability, availability, and resilience, and we can certainly apply the concept of network functions virtualization (NFV) to the rest.

What used to involve capital spending and staffing up starts to become a services expense. And it starts to look like the MSP community has a huge opportunity here, and indeed they do from provisioning the equipment still required to Cloud services and ongoing operations. The load (and risk) previously assumed by internal IT organizations diminishes.

So, does Wireless as a Service (WaaS) make sense? Yes, indeed it does. And we believe that it’s the future for perhaps the majority of IT shops over our exploration period above.

This is what we might call the “Utility Model” of wireless going forward – like so many other “as a service” possibilities, WaaS takes advantage of what we believe will be a large number of competitive suppliers available to outsource (definitely not a dirty word in this case) large elements of network infrastructure and operations – think networking, not networks. Think in terms of wireless that, as we noted above, just works, leveraging the expertise and benefits from the cost reductions enabled by that universe of possible suppliers.

Exciting? Absolutely! And next time we’ll explore why the Utility Model applied to Wi-Fi works so well.

All posts in this series:

1) Deploying Wi-Fi As A Service Makes Sense, Here's Why

2) Like The Plumbing And Water We Depend Upon, Wi-Fi Must Just Work

3) CapEx and OpEx: How Outsourced Wi-Fi Changes IT Budgeting

4) How Does An Organization Prepare Itself For Outsourced Wi-Fi?

Craig Mathias (@farpoint1)

Craig J. Mathias is a Principal with Farpoint Group, an advisory firm specializing in wireless networking and mobile IT. Founded in 1991, Farpoint Group works with technology developers, manufacturers, carriers and operators, enterprises, and the financial community. Craig is an internationally-recognized industry and technology analyst, consultant, conference and event speaker, and author. He currently writes columns for Boundless, Connected Futures, CIO.com, and various sites at TechTarget. Craig holds an Sc.B. degree in Computer Science from Brown University, and is a member of the Society of Sigma Xi and the IEEE.