Wi-Fi Opportunities a Bright Spot for Solution Providers

By Sharon Linsenbach  |  Print this article Print


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Even as the U.S. economy looks bleak, Wi-Fi or 802.11 represents a revenue opportunity for IT solution providers and consultants. Vendor Meraki has launched a new channel program for its municipal Wi-Fi solutions that it says competes on price and ease of use with Cisco and Avaya.

With the U.S. economy tightening and Wall Street numbers sliding further every week, a few bright spots remain for IT solution providers. One of those is the wireless market, according to research from Chetan Sharma Consulting.

The U.S. wireless market grew 40 percent in the second quarter 2008 compared with the same quarter in 2007, and the data services market is on track to reach $34 billion by the end of 2008, according to research from the firm.

Looking to help channel partners cash in on some of that growth by competing on price and using a simple SAAS (software as a service)-based system, wireless mesh networking vendor Meraki has launched a new channel program. The program is designed to help resellers increase their revenue in an unlikely market—municipal Wi-Fi.

Though citywide Wi-Fi installations in cities such as Philadelphia and San Francisco were almost universally panned as failures, Meraki’s technology and go-to-market strategy are driving the company’s success in the area, as well as residential buildings and the resort/hotel and hospitality arena.

Focusing on smaller communities, neighborhoods, business districts, and apartment and condominium complexes within larger cities has expanded Meraki’s presence, and currently Meraki wireless access is available to over 80 percent of the city of San Francisco, says John Sampson, senior manager for channel marketing at Meraki. 

"Rather than trying to provide such a wide-ranging, citywide access area, we are taking on more of a targeted, neighborhood approach. We’re working very closely with local chambers of commerce to develop opportunities. For instance, in Cambridge, Mass., we have an installation that covers their downtown business district," Sampson says.

Sampson says Meraki and its burgeoning reseller community are ready to take advantage of this environment. Meraki says its low-cost, high-performance mesh network technology uses easily available, cost-efficient, off-the-shelf components backed by hosted SAAS back-end architecture to simplify network management and reduce operational expenses.

Using commodity components and off-the-shelf hardware helps Meraki resellers compete on price with vendors such as Cisco Systems and Avaya. And using a SAAS model not only eases the learning curve for wireless solution providers, but also gives partners the opportunity to generate recurring services revenue, says Sampson.

"Most competitors require high-end network access points and also a controller to manage the wireless service, which quickly becomes expensive.  We provide the controller hardware as well as an intuitive, Web-based software package to configure and manage the networks at a very low cost," says Sampson. This approach lowers costs for partners and their customers, and streamlines the acquisition and training process for new Meraki resellers, the company says.

Al Brown, president and CEO of SmartWave Technologies, is a Meraki reseller focusing on small cities, the hospitality industry and the education market, among others. Brown’s company also completed a Meraki installation at Google’s Mountain View, Calif., campus.

"What we like about the product is it’s very durable, lightweight, easy to install, and it’s also a very elegant solution," Brown says. "Meraki has price points that are really disruptive in this market, and has a great back-end management system that’s really user-friendly."

Brown says his customers are usually midmarket companies, local municipalities or educational institutions that are very cost-conscious. The Meraki solution allows him to bring cutting-edge technology at prices his customers can afford and generate new business.

"The customers we work with don’t have expensive networking engineers on the payroll, nor do they have the money to outsource the management tasks. With this product set, it enables us to enter a market where traditionally we couldn’t be competitive" because competing vendors’ hardware is prohibitively expensive, he says.

Meraki, says Brown, can help him deliver to customers a turnkey installation for about the price of competing vendors’ infrastructure.

The company declined to comment on the number of resellers currently signed to the program, but Sampson says Meraki is being selective about the number and types of partners it is recruiting to avoid commoditization.

Sampson says Meraki is taking every opportunity to learn from its partner relationships what the best features, benefits and support services partners need, and to adequately support the unique needs of its partner community as it grows.

"We need to make sure we have the right resources in place to support a growing number of partners, and we’re listening to hear from current partners what works and what doesn’t to help us better target more partners" in government, education, residential and hospitality verticals, he says.

Sharon Linsenbach Sharon Linsenbach is a staff writer for eWEEK and eWEEK Channel Insider. Prior to joining Ziff Davis, Sharon was Assistant Managing Editor for CRN, a weekly magazine for PC and technology resellers. Before joining CRN, Sharon was an Acquisitions Editor for The Coriolis Group and later, Editorial Director with Paraglyph Press, both in Scottsdale, AZ. She holds a BA in English from Drew University and lives in the Philadelphia suburbs with her significant other and two neurotic cats. When she's not reading or writing about technology, Sharon enjoys yoga, knitting, traveling and live music. Sharon can be reached at Sharon.Linsenbach@ziffdavisenterprise.com.

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