Transition and evolution are a constant in the tech industry as niche products evolve into enterprise infrastructure. This is exactly what's happening with wireless local area networks (WLANs) in large organizations.
It first started awhile back with a few wireless access points in conference rooms. Intel's Centrino processor led to lots more laptops and thus lots more access points. This in turn led to the need for more wireless network management, security, and administrative tools.
All of these things have come to pass and now we are looking at enterprise-wide WLAN deployment, especially in industries such as education, government, health care, logistics, and manufacturing. Enterprise Strategy Group believes that these enterprise requirements will lead to a new chapter for WLAN vendors, one of opportunities and new challenges. For the sake of industry cliche, let's call this new era "wireless 2.0," which will be segmented into five buckets:
1. The incumbents. Many users will look to their existing WLAN vendors for new devices and integrated tools. Advantage: Cisco Systems and Aruba Networks. It should be noted, however, that the transition to wireless 2.0 is causing a lot of churn in the market and may open opportunities for lots of competitive swap-outs.
2. The techies. We work in a geeky industry and lots of customers are still gaga over speeds and feeds. Wireless 2.0 rhetoric centers on access points per controllers, wireless mesh networks, and network access control (NAC) integration. Advantage: Aruba, Meru Networks, Trapeze Networks, and Xirrus.
3. The "unified network" guys. This is marketing code for vendors that sell both wired and wireless gear. The message they preach is that large organizations need one well-managed network, not distinct wired and wireless pipes. In IT, consolidation and central management is always good so there is some logic to this message. Advantage: Cisco, Extreme Networks, Hewlett-Packard, and Nortel Networks.
4. The multimedia supporters. Wireless networks are becoming a gateway to network services like voice and video that require lots more focus on applications, users, and quality of service. Large organizations aggressively moving down the IP telephony path will be especially open to working with these vendors. Advantage: Meru.
5. The business process crowd. Ultimately, it isn't about ports and protocols; it's about getting work done. Driven by the proliferation of smarter mobile devices, we are bound to see lots more industry and business process-specific applications. Advantage: Cisco, Motorola/Symbol, and Siemens.
The early advantage has to go to market leaders Aruba and Cisco and up-and-comer Meru, but there is still lots of room for innovation, industry-specific focus, and customer churn. Let the games--I mean wireless 2.0--begin.