As small businesses make their Wi-Fi more enterprise-like, Ruckus Wireless wants to meet them where they live with that hallmark of consumer tech, the mobile app.
On Wednesday, Ruckus reached beyond its familiar service provider and large-business territory with Xclaim, a whole new brand aimed squarely at small businesses, those operations that have fewer than 100 employees and in many cases are run out of the owner's home.
At that level, many buyers set up their first Wi-Fi a few years ago with stand-alone routers that were designed for consumers, Dell'Oro Group analyst Chris DePuy said. That gave them basic wireless capability, but with multiple mobile devices such as phones and tablets being used for work, the demands being placed on Wi-Fi have grown.
"This has gone from sort of a nice to have to an absolute necessity for just about every kind of business now," DePuy said.
That's leading many small businesses to deploy multiple, coordinated access points (APs) with more enterprise-class features, he said. Dell'Oro estimates that the global Wi-Fi market for small and medium-sized businesses and remote enterprise sites could reach US$1.3 billion in annual revenue by 2018. "There's still quite a bit of opportunity," DePuy said.
There are several vendors serving that market as a whole, including Aruba Networks, Ubiquiti Networks and Cisco Systems' Meraki division. For ease of use, most of the systems eschew a dedicated wireless LAN controller in favor of cloud-based management. Xclaim will aim low, with prices starting at $89, and use a free mobile app to control the APs. The products will be sold direct from Xclaim, at online retailers and in some cases by value-added resellers.
To start up an Xclaim network, users will plug in the access points, download the app, use it to create one or more wireless LANs and choose a few settings for the APs. The process should take two or three minutes for non-technical business owners with no IT staff, according to Rob Mustarde, vice president and general manager of Ruckus's small-business Wi-Fi business.
"The app comes in iOS and Android versions. From the phone, it talks directly to the access points nearby rather than controlling them via the Internet. Cloud management capability will come in the first half of next year, Mustarde said.
Ruckus could have presented much the same user experience via a Web interface, but putting it in an app is a good idea, Farpoint Group analyst Craig Mathias said.
"Today's generation of end users is very much app-oriented," he said.
The hardware lineup includes two indoor APs with older IEEE 802.11n technology. The $89 Xi-1 has one radio, which can transmit on either the 2.4GHz or the 5GHz band, and has a top speed of about 300Mbps. The $149 Xi-2 has two radios, so it can communicate on both Wi-Fi bands simultaneously and operate at up to 600Mbps.
The other two models out on Wednesday use the latest form of Wi-Fi, 802.11ac, for a top speed of more than 1Gbps. The Xi-3 is an indoor AP, priced at $199, and the Xo-1 is an outdoor unit for $299.
All the units have several features that aren't included in most consumer-grade Wi-Fi products. Among other things, the Xclaim APs can automatically give priority to delay-sensitive traffic such as voice calls and video, dynamically select the least crowded radio channels based on long-term trends, and prevent devices with older, slower Wi-Fi from keeping other users waiting.
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