Bringing affordable enterprise-grade Wi-Fi to the SMB market

Ruckus Wireless launched its Unleashed Wi-Fi access points recently with the aim of providing smaller companies with an easy to manage, affordable ‘plug and play’ solution. Wireless editor James Atkinson caught up with Diana Shtil, product marketing manager and Steve Johnson, regional director, Northern Europe at IP Expo in London to find out more

Bringing affordable enterprise-grade Wi-Fi to the SMB market

Small and medium businesses (SMBs) need good communications as badly as large enterprises. However, finding enterprise-grade Wi-Fi which is easy to manage with little or no IT support, and with the technical capabilities they would like, at a cost point they can afford, has been a tricky prospect – up to now.

Ruckus Wireless unveiled its new Unleashed access points (APs) on 6 October 2015, based on a controller-less Wi-Fi architecture – a first for the company. The avowed aim of Unleashed is to reduce ownership costs and deliver up to 50% higher Wi-Fi performance for small business environments.

Diana Shtil, product marketing manager at Ruckus, explains the rationale behind the launch. ‘Deploying Wi-Fi systems is difficult for SMB/Es who do not have the IT staff or the budget to deploy a high performance network. Do they deploy something sub-par or deploy something more expensive and hope that it doesn’t require a lot of technical management?

‘We’ve limited the Ruckus Unleashed system to a maximum of 25 APs capable of supporting 512 clients. It can be deployed in just minutes by implementing four easy configuration steps, so you don’t need to be an IT expert – it is really just a plug and play situation.’

Why the 25 AP limit? ‘This is our first controller-less solution,’ explains Shtil, ‘and we put limits on the network for a reason because we want to make sure that we don’t limit performance. A controller plays a role in a larger deployment or a distributed network, but we demarcated the 25 AP count and 512 client count as it is the perfect fit in terms of size of network and quality of performance.’

Enterprise grade solution
Shtil continues: ‘But what’s important to realise here is that with Unleashed the customer gets all the Ruckus proprietary technology such as Beamflex for throughput maximisation, ChannelFly for channel optimisation and all the other features that are in included in Ruckus’ other enterprise products.

‘And, you don’t have to pay extra for it,’ she emphasises. ‘We have brought down all the sophisticated technology from our enterprise-grade products and implemented all of it into Unleashed for the SMB/E market.

‘Clients will be able connect to the network and the data transfer will be seamless. You also have protection of the network via the master AP and the standby master AP, which will become the master if the first master goes down – the user will never see the difference,’ says Shtil.

Steve Johnson, regional director, Northern Europe at Ruckus, outlines the local UK viewpoint. ‘If you take a customer-centric view, there are a raft of SMB/Es across the UK, such as GP surgeries, small professional services offices, accountants, architects, small retail environments, smaller schools and public sector environments – it’s a huge and booming market.

‘Typically these kinds of Wi-Fi customers have been forced to invest in lower grade or just enough Wi-Fi solutions basically just providing connectivity, but without performance or any level of sophistication around it. This is because they usually do not have the IT skills in-house to set up anything more complicated and also because they are constrained by budgets,’ he points out.

‘What is exciting to me is this is the first time an enterprise class technology from Ruckus has been made available specifically in this format, in an affordable and simple to use way, in a lower IT knowledge environment, for those SMB type customers.

‘What we are doing is not just delivering these customers the ability to compete with some of the big guys in terms of customer engagement and process management, but maybe even to take a competitive advantage and get ahead of those bigger players, as they are more agile,’ says Johnson.

In Johnson’s view, the single biggest step the customer has to make is to define their own security policy: what is it that they want or don’t want: once they’ve done that, Ruckus can build the technical solution for them.

‘You need accountability as well,’ he points out. ‘You need to know who was on the network and when and what they were doing. One of things that comes out of the box with Unleashed is a customisable Guest Portal. You can log onto it and register or have it as an email or SMS. You register with administrator and get a guest pass sent to you. So, even if it is a relatively open network you can still get traceability and accountability.’

The APs are 802.11ac Wave 1 standard, rather than the very latest Wave 2. ‘We had to hit the right commercial point to make it accessible to the SME market, although it is not our cheapest AP – it’s mid-tier. It is high in features, functionality and performance, but equally we believe it is affordable to the SMB/E space. They are equivalent to our Ruckus ZoneFlex R500 or R600 802.11ac Wave 1 APs,’ says Johnson.

Channel partner opportunity
He goes on to say: ‘Unleashed is a really exciting proposition for our existing channel partners and bear in mind I believe it will attract some new channel partners to us, as it opens up a new proposition for them.

‘A number of our existing channel partners have sold into the SMB space, perhaps the higher end of it, where the performance and value of the Ruckus proposition has been of value to the customer.

‘But where they may have lost sales in the past is in that market where it is more commercially sensitive and the customer has been forced to invest in lower grade, lower performance Wi-Fi. So, what Unleashed should do is give them the opportunity to win customers who were not available to them before,’ says Johnson.

Educating the channel is pretty simple, as Unleashed itself is simple – four clicks and you are up and running, so training and education has mirrored that. In terms of a sales pitch, Johnson says the first thing to emphasise is its simplicity.

‘It is easy; if you have low IT skills in your company, don’t be afraid as you can still have an enterprise class solution with a guest portal and other features. You can have these more sophisticated features, but it is still easy to figure out. So, this Wi-Fi solution is accessible to you in a way more complex Wi-Fi hasn’t been before.’

Johnson says that performance is the next thing to emphasise to potential customers. ‘Capacity is the key driver here. Wi-Fi is a fundamental way to engage with customers and to improve your business processes and productivity. Because of that it is no longer a nice to have; instead it is becoming an essential component of every ones’ business.

‘More and more devices are being added to networks and they are consuming more and more data. On top of that you have M2M and Internet of Things devices coming on to the networks. So, if you add all these personal and M2M devices together then the next big challenge for Wi-Fi isn’t connectivity or coverage, it is capacity.

‘That means speed and reliability is becoming very important to these guys, who are finding out that the affordable Wi-Fi they bought a couple of years ago isn’t matching these requirements. So, Unleashed is all about simplicity, performance and affordability,’ says Johnson.

Expanding the network
Shtil adds that if you invest in Unleashed you are not limiting yourself if you need to expand your network. ‘The beauty of Unleashed is that if a customer outgrows the 25 APs they have deployed and the 512 concurrent clients and they need more capacity, they can continue to use their existing investment.

‘All they need to do is purchase a controller and the licences and they are ready to go on to the Ruckus Zone Director or SmartZone platforms. It is easy to add more APs and there is no need to redesign the network architecture. So, they can leverage what they already have in terms of infrastructure and that saves them a lot of money, which is ideal for this market,’ concludes Shtil.


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