WiFi emerged as the primary network for enterprise environments in 2013, as businesses of all sizes continued to adopt smartphones and tablets. The demand for enterprise WiFi has gone through the roof as the result of companies rolling out bring-your-own-device (BYOD) initiatives and new innovative mobile technologies coming to market. In 2014, enterprise WiFi will change even more as new trends take effect.
Enterprise adopts 802.11ac
802.11ac is the hottest topic in wireless, and rightfully so. It represents the next fundamental change in the 802.11 protocol and promises to boost speeds into the gigabit world. In 2014, 802.11ac access point (AP) adoption will increase, driven mainly by the existence of more 802.11ac-enabled client devices, and as vendors release lower-cost 2 x 2 802.11ac APs. An optimized 802.11ac infrastructure will depend on solid wireless fundamentals, thoughtful radio design, smart antenna systems, and dynamic radiofrequency adaptation.
Cloud expands for SMEs
Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) face challenges when it comes to deploying a robust wireless LAN (WLAN), because they typically have little IT staff available and tight budgets. Up until now, SMEs have had two choices: They can use costly and complex enterprise WLAN systems or affordable but featureless consumer-grade WiFi; there has been very little in between.
In 2014, cloud solutions for WiFi management and services will provide "out of reach" enterprise technology for the average SME. While these services will offer a good plug-and-play deployment model for remote sites and remote employees, they won't be cost-effective enough for most SMEs to use as overall solutions.
WiFi-based location analytics emerge
Location-based services (LBS) received a lot of attention in the enterprise world in 2013, driven by the fact that so many people now have multiple WiFi-enabled devices, including smartphones, tablets, and laptops. The full spectrum of businesses, from retail, hospitality, and even healthcare are now in the process of developing a new range of location-based service models.
In 2014, WiFi-based location analytics will play a bigger role for organizations to increase business intelligence, define security policy, and improve the customer and user WiFi experience. WiFi will provide much more than Internet access. As the trend matures, users will begin looking for site and venue-specific apps.
Hotspot 2.0 and Passpoint open opportunities
Throughout 2013, the Hotspot 2.0 WiFi protocol was developed and promoted by the Wi-Fi Alliance, carriers, and equipment suppliers. In 2014, through the continued adoption of Hotspot 2.0-capable and WiFi certified Passpoint devices, we expect this technology to gain more traction in the enterprise as another means to provide WiFi access, and to turn the WLAN into a profit center for enterprises and carriers alike.
Because operators want WiFi network access, the real opportunity will emerge for any enterprise or venue owner to wholesale their existing WLAN capacity to operators, charging them recurring fees for that access. Enterprise WLANs involve large capital and operational expenses, and Hotspot 2.0 offers enterprises the chance to gain a return on investment and secure an ongoing revenue stream, while providing operators with better data access service to their subscribers.
Social media applications, such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Google+ have permeated almost every interaction we make online in our everyday lives. More services, applications, and subscriptions are either encouraging or, in some cases, requiring users to sign up using social media identities. In 2014, we will see this extend to WiFi and become pervasive among organisations providing guest access. WiFi will allow users to log in to the network using their social credentials.
2014 will be another banner year for WiFi, and its potential in the enterprise has never been more promising.
Salah Nassar is senior manager of enterprise product marketing at Ruckus Wireless.