Are You Ready To Sell Today's Broadband Wireless Technology?
Industry experts describe advances in broadband wireless that are having a major impact on how you should sell this technology.
It's always interesting to see how certain technologies evolve year to year. Broadband wireless is one such technology that's worth keeping up with because, first, it changes dramatically every year, and second, new wireless applications and challenges are springing up all the time. I recently spoke with three industry experts and got their input on the latest broadband wireless trends and the impact on VARs. There is no single theme that each expert focused on. Rather, there are four trends you need to know about, including how you'll need to position your business and potential pitfalls you should avoid.
Don't Rule Out Licensed Broadband Sales
According to Kip Williams, VP of business development at TESSCO, "Just two years ago, licensed wireless solutions were pretty rare, but since that time we've seen a dramatic increase in interest and adoption. We're seeing a growing demand for licensed radios that use 6 GHz, 11 GHz, 18 GHz, and 23 GHz frequencies. Additionally, within the past year it's become much easier for VARs to apply for licenses on behalf of their customers." In the past, a VAR had to practically hire a consultant to figure out how to acquire a broadband wireless spectrum license. Today, however, there are several companies that have purchased blocks of wireless spectrum on different frequencies, and they're either reselling their blocks or renting blocks. "What's nice about using licensed wireless is that you don't have to worry about interference from other wireless radios because the FCC [Federal Communications Commission] guarantees that no one else in the nearby vicinity is permitted to use the same frequency," says Williams. According to Williams, TESSCO is seeing licensed deployments in vertical markets such as manufacturing, healthcare, and finance. The reasons customers prefer licensed solutions are because of existing wireless interference problems (especially in densely populated areas) or to prevent perceived future interference issues.
Sell Secure Broadband Wireless
Dan Foster, general manager and senior VP of SMB and channel markets at MegaPath, also sees a rising adoption of licensed wireless deployments — primarily 3G wireless services from carriers such as Sprint and Verizon. "The introduction of 3G technologies enables customers that previously required expensive VSAT [very small aperture terminal] or T1 connections to be serviced with wireless broadband," says Foster. Foster also sees advances in wireless security with licensed and unlicensed wireless deployments as another significant trend. "One of the issues with broadband wireless technology in the past was that it didn't support private network connections such as IPsec [Internet Protocol security] VPN [virtual private network] tunneling," he says. "Today, the throughput and latency of 3G solutions are greatly improved over legacy 1xRTT [single radio transmission technology] solutions, which used to perform only slightly better than dial-up. Improvements in broadband wireless solutions enable support of a variety of security options, and they can even be integrated with MPLS [multiprotocol label switching] networks, which offer numerous benefits over traditional layer 2 networks." By integrating wireless broadband with MPLS, VARs can deliver QoS (quality of service) and managed security services for wireless broadband customers.
Broadband Wireless Rivals Wired Line Throughput
The basic need of nearly every end user is greater bandwidth. Advances in wireless technology are addressing that need as well. "We've seen the average throughput for most radios increase from 50-to-100 Mbits/second to 1-to-1.5 Gbits/second," says Williams. "The average latency also has been reduced and QoS is now available with most broadband wireless radios. Collectively, these features provide more flexibility and choices to address applications such as imaging in healthcare, video surveillance at shipping ports, and voice applications such as VoIP [voice over Internet Protocol] in campus environments, making wireless a true wired infrastructure alternative."
Additionally, the dramatic increase in throughput and reduction in latency now make broadband wireless a viable alternative to a wired WAN connection. "In some instances, it's cheaper and quicker for a VAR to sell and set up a broadband wireless connection than it is to wait for the cable company or ISP [Internet service provider] to run a cable or T1 line," says Foster.
802.11n Is Becoming The Broadband Wireless Access Standard
One additional wireless trend VARs need to be aware of is the coming of 802.11n, the latest version of Wi-Fi, which is currently in draft 2.0 and is expected to be ratified by the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers) sometime in 2009. Several vendors have released 'Pre N' products, which can be upgraded to the final N standard via a software/firmware upgrade. According to Milind Bhise, director of product and channel marketing at Proxim Wireless, "Wi-Fi will continue to be the predominant broadband wireless access technology. With 802.11n's promise of significantly higher throughput [up to four times as much as 802.11g], it will influence IT decision makers and CIOs to move to all-wireless infrastructures."
One thing Bhise advises, as well as the other experts, is that VARs get trained on 802.11n deployments, which are much different from 802.11 b/g deployments. For example, 802.11n is often transmitted at 5.8 GHz as opposed to 802.11 b/g, which uses the 2.4 GHz spectrum. "For optimal coverage and cost, proper RF planning is always useful," says Bhise.
Where 802.11n gets its throughput advantage is via a process called channel bonding, which VARs need to understand as well. In a nutshell, channel bonding enables a wireless radio to send and receive signals over two channels simultaneously. Within the 2.4 GHz spectrum, there are only three channels, which makes channel bonding more difficult. In the 5.8 GHz spectrum, however, there are 24 nonoverlapping channels, which means that up to 12 channels can be paired up.
Finally, some 802.11n radios require more power than 802.11 b/g radios and therefore do not support 802.11af PoE (Power over Ethernet). One workaround to this problem entails using power injectors, but VARs must account for extra installation time and costs up front to avoid surprising a customer at the end of a deployment with extra time and/or costs.
Conduct Site Surveys Before Guaranteeing Throughput
If there's one piece of advice that all the experts I talked to share regarding a pitfall to avoid, it has to do with the site survey. "Wireless technology behaves very differently in an outdoor environment than it does in a lab setting," says Foster. "If a customer is expecting a throughput of 100 Mbits/second and you can only deliver 60 Mbits/second because of poor network planning and/or environmental obstacles, you're going to have a disappointed customer." TESSCO's Williams advises all VARs to become certified at selling broadband wireless products rather than trying to learn on the job only. "Classes take only one to three days, and you'll avoid many headaches down the road," he says. "I've known of a few installations where a VAR blamed a poorly performing wireless network on the vendor's product, only to later find out that the VAR hadn't properly planned the network nor done a thorough site survey."
Broadband wireless technology has many business uses that reach across every vertical market. VARs are wise to keep up with advances in this technology and help their customers use it to their advantages.