Netgear Targets Specific SMB Segments With New Wireless Gear

The products, collectively called ProSafe Wireless Management, suggest a happy medium between low-end wireless stretched beyond its intended use and more higher-end, budget-busting gear. They also target customers who want to manage multiple access points but not spend a lot of time on individual configuration.

"Enterprises have largely adopted a centralized wireless architecture, but that isn't happening down in the sub-500-[user] space," said Peter Newton, director of SMB product marketing at Netgear. "The strong message we've been receiving is that those companies really wanted a wireless networking capability with centralized management, but two things -- complexity and cost -- are getting in the way. Many can't afford to have a dedicated wireless staff or even a dedicated networking IT staff."

The three releases in the new ProSafe line are targeted at sub-500-, sub-200- and even sub-50-user customers. Netgear argues that the bulk of wireless products most often available for those segments are often what Newton called "watered-down" versions of enterprise-level tools.

"We are providing the appropriate feature level and appropriate complexity to enable smaller business to have the benefit of a centralized management architecture," Newton said. "These are designed to simplify the life of both IT managers and resellers."

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Netgear's new releases include ProSafe 5-AP Wireless Management Software WMS 105, a software package intended for businesses with five to 50 users. It supports centralized configuration of up to five access points (including 802.11n), along with support for existing Netgear APs and the ability to discover existing APs already on a network. It'll sell for $50 MSRP -- less through VARs, Newton said -- and be available starting in May.

"It pays for itself the first time you use it on labor alone," Newton said. "It runs on a PC and will go out and discover the access point and the network, and then provide mass configuration of those access points instead of having to configure them individually." Next is ProSafe 16-AP Wireless Management System WMS5316, which Netgear is positioning to compete with midmarket wireless controllers but at a much lower price point. The system offers central wireless management for 16 APs, rogue AP detection, load-balancing of clients and guest access controls and is intended for SMBs and schools with between 50 and 200 users. Netgear is offering it for $910 MSRP starting in March.

Finally, Netgear has an enterprise-level product called ProSafe 20-AP Wireless Controller WC7520, scalable up to 1,500 users. The controller scales up to 50 APs on a single unit and is stackable up to three controllers, with redundancy. It also offers voice-over-Wi-Fi support, SpectraLink Voice Priority QoS compliance and wireless security with rogue AP detection, heat maps and triangulation. It'll be available in July for Netgear's MSRP of $6,280.

"If you're looking at some access point wireless solutions using HP or 3Com, you're looking at a $20,000 to $30,000 investment to deploy that network," Newton said. "We're trying to offer the features these businesses need and the ability to monitor their network. It's a good wireless experience within their budget."

The September 2009 ratification of the IEEE's 802.11n wireless standard and the push by SMBs to do more with less capital investment are two factors working in Netgear's favor. Many of its recent product releases -- such as last fall's ProSafe Plus "unmanaged switches" -- target those SMBs craving networking gear intended specifically for them, instead of products that scale down to their size.

"The sub-10s had very high adoption of 11n early because the consumer-class product was acceptable for them," Newton said. "But when you get above that, to about the 20 to 50 range, they just didn't see a product designed appropriately. They're still waiting for a number of things -- the majority of laptops still ship with 11g -- so there's a lot of opportunity."

The 11n uptake will continue to be crucial for overall growth in wireless, Newton insisted.

"Even if you look in the enterprise space, a lot of the 'n' deployments have been done as part of a refresh, not as a need," he said. "Most business are still continuing to use 'n' as an overlay, but adoption will increase, no question."