One of the buzzwords often heard in our 21st century service economy is “outsourcing.” Outsourcing — contracting with an outside vendor to provide goods or services instead of utilizing an internal source — happens in all sorts of businesses, including IT. Contracting Wi-Fi services to managed services vendors has exploded in recent years as the use of wireless devices becomes more prevalent and Wi-Fi spectrum has become more crowded.
Note that a Wireless Service Provider (WSP) differs in scope from a vendor that offers managed Wi-Fi services. A WSP typically oversees cellular networks and even sometimes satellite communication services in addition to serving as an ISP. A Wireless Applications Services Provider (WASP) is “part of a growing industry sector resulting from the convergence of two trends: wireless communications and the outsourcing of services. A WASP performs the same service for wireless clients as a regular application service provider (ASP) does for wired clients: it provides Web-based access to applications and services that would otherwise have to be stored locally.”
If one Googles “Managed Wi-Fi Services,” prepare to see almost 30 million hits. It’s big business with both major (Windstream, Suddenlink, Megapath) players as well as “mom-and-pop” providers. But does contracting with a WASP make sense for your business? Maybe, depending on how your company uses Wi-Fi and your company’s in-house IT department.
Should Your Business Use a Managed Wi-Fi Services Vendor?
If one reads boilerplate marketing spiel from managed Wi-Fi services providers, of course you should. For example, according to deepbluecommunications.com, here are 10 reasons why your business should choose to contract with them. (Note that we’re not endorsing any managed Wi-Fi services provider. We’re merely using the text below to illustrate the dynamics involved in Wi-Fi management.)
- Professional network design and engineering
- Proactive, technology-based approach to WiFi services management
- Alignment with industry best practices and standards
- Consistent processes and knowledge management
- Support for multivendor environments and strong partnerships
- Consistent global service delivery, with options for local resources
- Performance-based service level agreements
- Broad portfolio of managed services aligned to your business model
- Technology foresight and a path to innovation
- Financial stability and reputation
As the reader may glean from the text, the raison d’etre for the WASP industry niche is to provide reliable, flexible and ingenious solutions in creating Wireless Local Area Networks (WLANs) for all sundry types of businesses. Certainly WLANs vary in complexity and purpose. Needs for one application may be totally unsuitable for another as WLANs emerge everywhere people need wireless connectivity. WLANs serving office buildings, school buildings and campuses, retail stores and manufacturing plant floors, etc., all have different requirements, dependent upon the needs of wireless users.
In this YouTube video Cox Communications makes their pitch for providing managed Wi-Fi services for school campuses:
Take it from Aaron Coleman, an AT&T Management Director for Wi-Fi Services and Business Marketing, who writes: “The need for public Wi-Fi has expanded well beyond hotels and airports, and it is now expected at venues of all types. It also provides a great opportunity for businesses to improve customer satisfaction, create new digital opportunities and gain valuable customer insights.”
Managed Wi-Fi Services Can Deliver Better Service
One big advantage a WASP vendor brings to clients is the ability to help them oversee network growth. It’s all too common for a businesses, especially facilities such as schools and retail, to need additional access points and routers as the number of users and perhaps locations increase. Too, as the introduction of new IEEE 802.11 standards ramp up connection speeds, hardware and firmware requires updating and/or replacement. Rather than saddle their IT department with the responsibility of riding herd over network updates, many businesses find it easier and cheaper to contract with a WASP for these services.
Since WASPs usually have advantages of “economies of scale” as well as ongoing relationships with equipment vendors, they typically can update hardware cheaper than a stand-alone end-user company. WASPs also act as overseers of network operations. Thus, rather than devote significant resources to establish a network operations center (NOC), it’s easier and cheaper to instead outsource these responsibilities to a WASP which usually has a NOC to manage their clients’ networks.
A Typical Network Operations Center (NOC)
Image Source: Alan Levine / flickr.com
The Wired/Wireless Divide
Many businesses are hesitant to make the transition to wireless connectivity from their traditional wired networks for any number of reasons. Concerns over upfront and maintenance expenses, in-house IT expertise and secure connections are all legitimate issues. Here is another area where WASPs can help. Since businesses subscribe instead of purchase mobile applications, setup costs are lower. Moreover WASPs also provide support services, reducing costs for training and staffing.
Other wireless issues for wired environments include Wi-Fi coverage areas and data synchronization between mobile and fixed devices. But the biggest concern for businesses concerning Wi-Fi is wireless network security. Wireless Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) go a long way toward securing communications between devices. Data encryption is a must; IT pros recommend Wi-Fi Protected Access 2 Pre-Shared Key-Advanced Encryption Standard (WPA2 PSK-AES) since “it uses WPA2, the latest Wi-Fi encryption standard, and the latest AES encryption protocol.”
In this space we previously visited the global Wi-Fi services provider (GSP) iPass. Before the reader reaches acronym overload, let’s mention that a GSP is a Wi-Fi network aggregator and not a managed services provider. At the risk of oversimplification, suffice to say that a GSP provides a wireless wide area network (WAN) to users while a WASP is a services vendor to client companies. In other words, iPass won’t provide your business a Cisco router. So, a WASP is different from a WSP, which is also known as a Wireless Internet Services Provider (WISP)…… but we’ve now exceeded our allowance for acronyms in an article…