When we think of WiFi, more often than not, we think of the consumer experience and the demand for a wireless internet connection that works in every room of the home. From the living room to the bedroom (and not forgetting the bathroom – with 10 percent of WiFi video reportedly consumed there), consumer demand for WiFi is at a peak. And while offering a faultless WiFi experience to subscribers at home is key, they are not the only ones demanding a reliable WiFi connection.
Small to medium businesses (SMBs) also are in need of a seamless WiFi connection. Acting as the main form of connectivity for many in the workplace, enterprise WiFi is no longer a nice-to-have – it’s a must-have.
The consumerisation of IT has transformed our working lives. No longer do employees just use their desktop computer to do work. Employees increasingly want to be able to connect their smartphones and tablets to the office WiFi to read emails, edit documents and even give presentations. But not only does WiFi give employees the freedom to move from device to device and room to room, WiFi is also important to access internal applications that mean they can access and upload documents, or using a WiFi calling service for conference calls.
Consumers and SMBs have a lot in common when it comes to WiFi. Both want to be able to connect an array of devices to WiFi, connect to and use different apps, and be able to get a strong WiFi signal in different rooms.
But what differs between the two is that that an unreliable WiFi service in the office costs businesses money. While a poor WiFi signal is infuriating for consumers in their homes when they’re trying to watch Netflix and it keeps buffering, for businesses, the effects of poor WiFi can be a lot worse. The downtime employees experience as they are unable to access internal networks to complete work, including even simple tasks such as reading emails, affects productivity and ultimately a business’ bottom line. Effective management of WiFi connectivity is therefore a serious business, so much so that, according to IDC, the market for cloud-managed WiFi market is growing, and will be worth $1.7 billion by 2018.
But as business needs change and high-capacity networks become critical, SMBs also have wider concerns. The first is security. While having a secure WiFi network is important for consumers, the risk for businesses of having information stolen when transmitted via WiFi can be devastating. Almost every business will have information that is integral to its operations, and keeping this safe is imperative. Scalability is another key consideration. Enterprises are keen to be able to scale up the number of devices that can connect to WiFi as they grow – allowing more employees to connect without having to update their wireless networks each and every time they hire new people.
But more connections within the workplace can cause problems. More people connecting to WiFi can cause congestion and as a result, impact performance, and in turn cause that dreaded downtime. And much like consumers, small to medium enterprises do not have the expertise and technical know-how to manage their WiFi service themselves.
The combination of increasing reliance and complexity with the lack of internal IT creates a significant opportunity for internet service providers (ISPs) to step in with a solution. According to IDC, “enterprises are searching for increasingly sophisticated network functionalities despite continually tight budgets and limitations around infrastructure, space, and staffing. Moreover, many enterprises need a singular, centrally managed and controlled network for branch locations that are geographically dispersed.”
The enterprise market is predominantly serviced by over-the-top (OTT) players who are selling directly to business owners, and small businesses do not have the same expertise as established players. ISPs, therefore, have an opportunity to target the SMB market, going beyond basic connectivity to deliver a fully managed service that has WiFi at its core.
With the consumerisation of IT only going to impact the workplace further, having a well performing and reliable WiFi connection will become ever more critical for all sizes of enterprises and especially SMBs as they embark on growth. Being able to maximize wireless connectivity and alleviate congestion will be key to a complete WiFi offering – one that ISPs should maximize, before it’s too late.
Todd Mersch is co-founder and EVP of sales and marketing at XCellAir.