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Enterprise / Internet

Managed Wifi: A Pocket Guide for IT Leaders

WiFi is no longer a technology. It’s a feature built into everyday life. Apartment buildings bundle managed WiFi into their rates to attract residents. Department stores offer free WiFi to help customers find what they need. And that’s just what the WiFi consumers are aware of.

This reliance on wireless internet has the WiFi-as-a-service market on pace to hit $8.4 billion by 2025. Globally, WiFi’s economic value is projected to reach $5 trillion in the same timeframe. There’s a lot driving that growth, including the rollout of WiFi 6, which supports speeds of up to 10 gigabytes per second (nearly triple the previous generation of WiFi).

Managed WiFi helps businesses scale their IT networks to meet the increasingly exciting—and complex—applications made by possible wireless internet. That’s especially true for small to medium enterprises, which are expected to need the most help finding cost-effective ways to optimize their wireless business networks.

What Is Managed WiFi?

Managed WiFi is the outsourcing of your business’s wireless internet as a third-party IT service. Your vendor handles every aspect of designing, installing, and monitoring your wireless local area networks (WLANs). You’ll pay an upfront fee to cover things like a needs assessment, followed by a monthly subscription to cover network monitoring and equipment maintenance.

Say WaaS Now?

Managed WiFi also sometimes goes by WiFi as a service, or WaaS. Given that managed WiFi is still an emerging service, it’s hard to say if WaaS will stick as an industry term. It doesn’t quite roll off the tongue, plus it’s an established term in two related fields:

Then again, who’d have predicted terms like “VoIP” and “virtual PBX” would be part of everyday IT speak?

The Pros and Cons of Managed WiFi

The rapid expansion of WiFi’s usage and capabilities mean businesses, especially enterprises, will need more human and technical resources to maintain fast, uninterrupted connections with wireless data sources. That means huge potential for managed WiFi to relieve some of IT pros’ sorest pain points.

But we also know from interviews with network engineers and heads of IT that switching from on-premises legacy solutions is like ski jumping. Just like a gold-medal jump has more than 1,000 practice jumps behind it, an enterprise IT network easily has more than 1,000 hours of planning behind it.

Todd Trapani Ski Jump C9fXuVU

The number of hours IT and networking engineers put into building, maintaining, and upgrading their business networks is on par with the time athletes put into their training. (Image source: Todd Trapani) That means businesses have to carefully weigh the pros and cons of adding managed WiFi.

Pros of Managed WiFi

Like SD-WAN, managed WiFi’s biggest benefit lies in its scalability. That is, how easily it lets businesses adapt their networks to changing needs. But the benefits don’t end there. Managed WiFi also:

  1. Helps IT professionals become strategic leaders. For instance, a head of IT could make the case to leadership that managed WiFi will help lower total cost of ownership. At the same time, it could open new revenue streams through value-added services such as proximity marketing. Think about a mall sending push notifications when customers walk by certain stores. (By the way, a study by Deloitte and WSJ Intelligence show CEOs want this kind of strategic thinking from their technology leaders.) We interviewed the CIO of Jiffy Lube on this very topic - check it out here.

  2. Turns an increasingly complex networking need into a hands-off, turnkey service. No one gets into IT because they’re passionate about manually coding router changes at the command-line level or hunting down why one store location keeps dealing with packet loss. Managed WiFi frees you and your team from the mundane, time-consuming parts of managing wireless business networks.

  3. Delivers faster and more secure WiFi for your business and customers. Spectrum Enterprise builds its managed WiFi services atop Cisco Meraki, one of the most trusted platforms for architecting secure (and fast) IT solutions via the cloud. Wireless edge networking means data is processed at the edge of your network instead of the core, resulting in lower data latency, less bandwidth consumption, and multiple security checkpoints.

Cons of Managed WiFi

Of course, there are some drawbacks to managed WiFi, too. Chief among them:

  1. You have to be comfortable handing over control of your wireless network. This can be a major barrier for some businesses, especially ones that need 100% uptime, like hospitals. But like with expanding your network’s edge with the help of colocation data centers, managed WiFi doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing scenario. You can hand off portions of your wireless network while retaining control over the rest of it. So, if you’re a hospital, you could segment your wireless network by what’s mission-critical and what’s not, then hand the non-mission-critical portions (waiting areas, food courts, etc.) to a managed WiFi provider.

  2. It’s a new category, so there’s still confusion about what managed WiFi is and what it includes. SecurEdge does a great job of breaking down this dilemma. Managed WiFi should be an all-inclusive, end-to-end service—but some managed WiFi providers don’t do anything beyond financing. That’s an especially bad scenario for big businesses who are going through digital disruption but traditionally don’t have large IT teams to lean on.

  3. Managed WiFi providers are not created equal. This is a related con to managed WiFi being a new category. A lack of transparency and standards means you have to shop carefully before committing. Otherwise, you may get stuck with a provider that can’t keep up with your needs, resulting in network failures that create poor customer experiences. If you’re an ecommerce company, losing connection means losing data, which could mean losing track of inventory.

Use Cases for Managed WiFi

It’s probably easier to define industries that don’t have use cases for managed WiFi, what with the rapid pace of digital disruption on the industry side, and digital adoption on the consumer side. That said, there are industries that stand to benefit more than others.

IoT Wearable Device jpg

IoT devices are becoming so common that customers wear them. (Image source: Luke Chesser)

  1. Businesses that serve crowds of people. Malls, sports and entertainment venues, and chains like restaurants and department stores are all examples of businesses where people gather in a public space. When customers are there, they want a WiFi-enhanced experience. Ever try to post a photo on Instagram while you’re at a concert, and the cellular coverage is so saturated that your post sits waiting to send? That matters. Ask the

    that overhauled its IT infrastructure after noticing guest complaints about the WiFi on TripAdvisor.

  2. Businesses that manage disparate data streams in real time and over great distances. Industries like logistics, manufacturing, and smart cities have to coordinate an array of data sources and keep them in sync. Ecommerce is a great example of an industry powered by IT-fueled growth, and WiFi is a big part of it. WiFi helps once disconnected points—suppliers, warehouses, freight and shipping carriers—gather and share data with one another, making it possible to track products in real time.

  3. Businesses that rely heavily on the internet of things (IoT). Office buildings, universities, and healthcare facilities are just a few examples of industries filled with IoT sensors. The use cases for IoT continue growing, too.

    to optimize their energy use, track IT assets, and even automate pest traps.

Find the Right Managed WiFi Provider for Your Business

WiFi continues making new, exciting technologies (and better customer experiences) a reality. But at the same time, it creates more complexity, meaning IT and networking leaders have to choose the right managed WiFi provider to help scale their networks.

Luckily, there’s a way to make managed WiFi providers come to you. Define your needs on the Lightyear Procure platform, compare quotes, sign contracts and we will handle your implementation - all for free (seriously). Learn more about how it works here.

Enjoy this blog? Check out our blog on WiFi 6 next!

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