How To Manage Customers’ High Wireless Expectations


Too often, companies settle for a mediocre wireless experience. That, unfortunately, can trickle down to their customer's experience. A VAR with solid wireless solutions can help improve the situation, says Abad, Meru Network's new Global Channel Chief. The first task is confronting the problem.
— Jennifer Bosavage, editor

When was the last time you unplugged a phone in a hotel room to get your email?

While some of you might think I’m describing a scene out of the old west, it actually wasn’t that long ago that networks were almost exclusively wired. Intel only launched Centrino, its unified WiFi platform that could be integrated into notebooks, in March 2003, just a little over nine years ago. Before that, wireless access was a bit of an exotic commodity. Users paid $60 a month or more for a separate wireless account and had to attach a brick onto the back of their notebooks.

"How many hot spots do you think you will use?" asked Gartner’s Mark Margevicius at the launch of Centrino.

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Copper was king, so one of the first things a business traveler did was to check to see if he or she could take apart the phone. At meetings, participants would take turns with network cables to get access. Very few employees checked their emails during group discussions because you couldn’t.

We all know what happened next. Wireless notebook sales grew exponentially. Wireless solutions were everywhere. Cafes and offices began to install guest networks and, pretty soon, every seat in the airport was filled with travelers tapping away silently on laptops or tablets. In many offices today, cables dangle, unplugged.

Another side of the wireless revolution gets less discussion, and it will become an increasingly important issue for resellers, equipment providers and their customers as WiFi continues to expand and compete more directly against services such as 4G. Coverage, reliability and robustness on many mission-critical WiFi networks often stink.

Mysterious, unexplained outages can be chronic, annoying occurrences at regional offices and small businesses. A lone individual streaming a video can soak up the bandwidth needed by 30 others. Someone sends you a lengthy slide deck over corporate email? Good luck. One of the drivers of the emerging cloud storage business is a failure of networks to operate efficiently. Wired networks have historically exhibited far greater reliability. The old phone network was particularly durable: storms could knock out the power for miles but you could still make phone calls.

Some people will tell you the best way to deal with that is to be realistic. Explain the challenges and gauge your customer’s expectations accordingly. In other words, lower them. I think you should do the opposite: raise their expectations.

Next page: Set a high standard, and watch your business grow.

Employees want office or public WiFi networks to run as flawlessly as the one they have at home. It is just supposed to function. There is no reason why they can’t get that kind of service. In fact, they need that kind of reliability. Some of those dangling blue cables may not give them connections anymore.

For a value added reseller, setting a high standard is the most sound way to grow your business. Resellers can only really earn a steady margin when customers have headaches. As wireless has become the default transport for many organizations, eliminating their wireless problems is a classic VAR service. It’s a priority that VARs re-think their design and approach to building mission critical, fault tolerant WiFi networks.

Robust wireless access can be a competitive differentiator for your clients. Look on Hotels.com or TripAdvisor: consumers rate hotels by the quality and availability of their wireless access. (Here’s an amusing historical faux pas: Back in 2005, Dubai’s Burj Al Arab hotel, one of the world’s most luxurious hotels, sported a helipad, transportation to the airport in a Rolls Royce and personal butlers, but they neglected to install wireless.) Starbucks has increased customer loyalty and hang time with wireless.

Some of the more advanced wireless deployments can be found at educational institutions and hospitals because they had to deal with many of these issues earlier than most. Think of a typical university. It must serve a large, and ever-changing, population of users who will connect to the network with a sprawling diversity of machines not approved by IT. Large numbers of visitors and temporary users are a regular, daily occurrence. While some buildings might be only a few months old, others might date back to the 19th Century. Residential buildings must be connected to laboratories stocked with high-voltage equipment.

And on top of it all, security and privacy, particularly at large research institutions, must be maintained. Spend an afternoon in an emergency room and you will encounter many of the same factors.

We’ve gone from thinking about wireless as a luxury item to thinking about wireless access as a necessity. Next, we want consumers and customers not to have to think about wireless at all.