Wireless LANs For Dummies
It's not too late to add WLANs to your product portfolio. But, to be profitable with this technology, you'll need some tutoring and a focus on the enterprise.
Let's say you're a moron. No, not in general, but in terms of knowledge regarding wireless local area networks (WLANs). Perhaps you just can't make it as a day trader anymore and you're convinced this wireless technological tidal wave is poised to be "the next big thing." You want to jump in and become a WLAN VAR or integrator, but you have this one little problem - you're clueless.
Don't laugh, these people exist. And, to some extent, even established VARs and integrators start out relatively "wireless-challenged." Wireless is, after all, a constantly evolving technology. Unfortunately though, when it comes to WLANs, the old adage, "a little knowledge can be dangerous" is clearly true.
"Trying to lower network infrastructure costs for your enterprise customers with shortcuts like products developed for 'home markets' can lead to serious security and network management problems," explained Joseph Heinzen, VP of engineering and professional services for distributor Comstor (Chantilly, VA). Another wireless distributor, Winncom Technologies Corp. (Cleveland) agrees implementing WLANs in an enterprise isn't as easy as it may seem. "Sometimes a WLAN is treated and installed as a glorified cordless phone system [in a home or a small office environment]," said Michael Maly, marketing director for Winncom. "However, these types of installations are often installed by the end user and do not require the services of a VAR. On the other hand, a typical enterprise-size WLAN requires a great deal of forethought and expertise on the part of the VAR."
Your Own Personal Silent Subcontractors
Forethought and expertise? If you're new to WLANs, you're probably wondering where you're going to get that expertise so you can have forethought. Well, unless you truly are a moron, you probably already know the answer - wireless vendors and distributors. Although, you may not realize how much the latter category has to offer nowadays in terms of wireless education and certification.
"Of course, it's important for VARs to understand wireless vendors' commitment to their products and the migration paths to new technology," stated Norm Dumbroff, president of wireless distributor WAV, Inc. (Chicago). "However, some major wireless manufacturers are shifting much of their support and customer service to the distributors." This shift means VARs can now use many distributors almost as silent subcontractors working behind the scenes on complicated technical issues. Some of the value-added services VARs should look for in a wireless distributor include system design, product training, site surveys, installation assistance, and RF (radio frequency) path studies. And no, there isn't typically a fee for this type of technical support. However, if a VAR wants in-depth training or even vendor-specific certifications, most distributors offer both, but at a price.
Know More Than Speeds And Feeds
By now, even if you have an inkling of WLAN knowledge, it is likely you've heard the numerous prognostications of this technology's great potential. Suffice it to say, the market is growing. In fact, it's exceeding many analysts' expectations. Transmission speeds, security, and interference issues are all constantly being improved with each new incarnation of wireless standards.
"With so many new forms of technology introduced into the market, many VARs may not realize the value of becoming specialized in WLANs," said Roy Appelbaum, VP and general manager of high-end storage and networking technology at distributor Tech Data Corp. (Clearwater, FL). "Today's end user is looking for a VAR that is an expert at integrating WLAN technology into specific industries. VARs that do not incite their customers' need for new solutions like WLAN technology will be eliminated."
Yet, if you are just beginning to sell WLANs, inciting the customer's need for this technology will require more than just regurgitating 'speeds and feeds' info. "Customers will want to know deployment times and any integration capabilities with legacy systems," Heinzen said. "Paying attention to and planning for things like scalability, automated management, and multiple levels of security can really improve an implementation."
Once again, this type of sales-related knowledge can often be gleaned from wireless distributors. In fact, Dumbroff stated one of the first steps VARs should take is to determine which type of training they need - sales or technical - after contacting a wireless distributor.
Sell The Value-Add Of WLANs
Despite the existence of some consumer-grade WLAN products, all of the distributors interviewed agreed WLAN technology has not reached a maturity level that eliminates the need for a VAR's services. Furthermore, they stressed WLAN installations aren't necessarily a one-time project. "WLANs are a highly consultative solution, requiring a constant need for maintenance and configurations which allow for after-sale services," stated Appelbaum.
Thus, the key to selling WLANs is to focus on products and applications which require value-added services such as system design, site surveys, installation, and maintenance. Maly lists wireless access points with roaming capabilities, outdoor solutions (wireless bridges and routers), and security products (e.g. virtual private networks) as some of these types of products.
On a final note, Dumbroff reiterated that marketing WLANs to the consumer is like approaching a marketplace with a commodity type of mentality. "The consumer market has little interest in value-added services," he said. "However, through the enterprise customer the VAR will reach the mobile worker and hence the consumer-class customer."
In conclusion, don't be tempted by the veil of relative simplicity that surrounds WLAN technology. It's more complicated than it looks. And, it's up to you to prove that point to your customers. So, do your homework and pick a knowledgeable partner. Otherwise, you may actually end up looking like a moron.