When a company as integral to the wireless LAN space as Atheros endorses a new market direction, you'd do well to pay attention. The wireless chip giant is looking to make life easier for the under-served small-to-midsize enterprise (SME) space with an innovative new addition to its wireless offerings. Given that cost and complexity of doing wireless right keep adoption by SMEs to under 20 percent, Atheros wants to make secure, enterprise-quality wireless achievable for those who want it but feel that they can't effectively pull it off for lack of budget or technical chops. A new collaboration with PowerCloud Systems opens up a lot of possibilities for the SME market and may portend things to come for the WLAN in general.
During the last couple of weeks, I've had the opportunity to talk with a number of cloud-based wireless systems providers. The goal of each (beyond capturing market share) is to drive down equipment costs, eliminate the complexity of controller-based systems and to somewhat relegate WLAN expertise to the margins by providing cloud-based systems that make having a robust WLAN easy. It's one thing to hear this message from the likes of Meraki and Aerohive, and it's another to see the provider of well over 50 percent of all WLAN access point radios buy in to the cloud movement.
The framework of the Atheros/PowerCloud partnership is relatively simple: Atheros adds CloudCommand technology to its wireless products before they ship. The customer decides whether or not to use it, but if they opt in they have a robust Web-based portal available to manage, configure and monitor their new WLANs through.
The Web portal will be supported by VARs, or even PowerCloud itself, at least in the beginning. PowerCloud Systems and Atheros, both with skin in the game, will ensure that VARs actually know what they are doing with this new model. At the end of the day, the result should be high-quality networks that are simple to install out of the box.
Beyond the SME market, Atheros sees the cloud wireless model as a good fit for emerging smart grid applications and more, and in fact now considers itself a "systems solution provider," as opposed to just a chipset supplier. Exactly what the impact of Atheros' new direction will be on the WLAN market as a whole remains to be seen, but this fast-evolving space is certainly morphing again before our very eyes.