managed wifiToday your customers, guests and staff expect not only WiFi, but good WiFi: fast, reliable, secure, easy, and free, with “five bars” coverage wherever your users are.  WiFi has become almost a utility, like water or electricity.  Your Point of Sale (POS), inventory control systems and IoT devices depend on it.

You don’t want to assume the additional role of becoming a WiFi expert, and you can’t afford to hire someone who is.  You also don’t want to sink major capital expense into hardware that inevitably become obsolete in a few years as WiFi standards evolve.

What is Managed WiFi?

As with so many terms in the IT industry, “Managed WiFi” can mean different things depending who you ask.  In the BullsEye world, “managed” means cloud-managed.  Using floor plans and site surveys, BullsEye works with you to determine coverage and services needed.  APs are shipped to your locations, and installers are dispatched to run the cabling, hang the APs, and connect them to the Internet.  Via a cloud management portal, BullsEye can remotely configure APs to provide exactly the SSIDs, VLANs, authentication methods, and portal pages you want.  The simple cloud management portal makes it easy for you to perform routine WiFi tasks from anywhere, without having to become a WiFi expert.

Why is everyone moving towards managed WiFi?

Let’s review a little history about how WiFi has evolved.  In the beginning, when the fastest WiFi speed was 11 megabits per second, access points were autonomous, which meant that each AP had to be managed individually.  Information wasn’t shared between APs, so there was no coordination of channel or power assignments, roaming was more difficult, and authentication and access rules had to be set up manually on each AP.  Clearly this administrative model is not scalable for an enterprise with dozens or hundreds of APs.

The next evolutionary step was the Controller: a dedicated appliance, typically installed in your data center or server room.  Management of all APs was centralized into one interface.  The Controller had knowledge of, and could coordinate activity between, all the APs.  On many controller-based wireless systems all WiFi traffic was tunneled back from the APs to the controller, and then passed to the wired network or Internet through a single egress point.  This made it easy to apply firewall rules at the controller, but the single egress point began to become a bottleneck.

As WiFi speeds increased into the hundred-megabit realm, the industry began to ask: how can throughput be increased, while at the same time keeping the ease of use of a centralized controller?  Hardware capability of APs improved, so it became possible to decouple the “data plane” from the “control plane”.  In other words, user data could be sent locally to the switchport to which the AP is connected, rather than tunneled back to the controller, whose function was now merely to coordinate global activities such as power and channel assignments, and configuration changes.  As APs gained processing power and memory, they could handle firewall rules and authentication locally.  At the same time, demands on the controller decreased, so the controller didn’t have to be expensive high-performance hardware anymore.  It could be virtual, meaning that it could be a software image loaded into a virtual machine.  Or it could be a simple task delegated arbitrarily to one AP in a cluster of identical APs.

The final step in the evolution of managed WiFi was for the AP vendor to take the virtual controller into the cloud.  The benefits of cloud management are massive.  You don’t have to buy controller hardware or maintain a VM.  You don’t have to worry about keeping the controller software or AP firmware current.  You can deploy WiFi to sites with one AP, or with hundreds of APs.  As long as the APs can reach the Internet, they will use zero-touch provisioning to find their cloud controller, and you can manage your entire multi-site WiFi network from a single pane of glass.  And you can do it from anywhere, even your smart phone.

And your WiFi network is future-proof: APs can be purchased or leased on a contract basis, so as WiFi standards evolve and new capabilities become available in the future, you can replace existing APs with new APs during contract renewal at current market price.

My Recommendation

Mojo, formerly known as AirTight, and now part of Arista, is a respected name in WiFi security.  Unique to the industry, Mojo access points include a third dedicated radio which is a full-time Wireless Intrusion Prevention System (WIPS).  This feature frees the other radios to service clients full time, so security and performance are both enhanced.

Mojo offers a diverse line of solidly-built enterprise-grade state-of-the-art 802.11ac Wave 2 access points, from an entry-level 2×2:2 AP to a high-performance, high-density 4×4:4 AP with 2 gigabit uplinks.  Mojo also offers environmentally-sealed outdoor APs as well as an economical wall plate form factor.

As an added benefit of cloud management, Mojo includes powerful data analytics (who is visiting my store? How long did they stay?  When were they last here? Where did they go in the store?  What social media do they use?) as a no-extra-cost part of the package.

Managed WiFi is the future, but it is only part of the picture.  A complete BullsEye broadband, Voice and security package provides you with access to Expert Network Center engineers. This is a very powerful advantage to you.  From a support perspective BullsEye will work with your IT team to troubleshoot issues from the user’s point of entry to your network, all the way through to your Internet carrier circuit, and often beyond.