WiFi, or Wireless LAN, connectivity has been a growing trend in the information technology sector for many years and it still remains one of the fastest growing segments, second only to security (Gartner).
Markets and Markets reported that the global WiFi market is expected to grow to be a $33.6 Billion industry by 2020 at an estimated CAGR of 17.8% – up from the $14.8 Billion market it had in 2015.
WiFi though is no longer just about getting places, people and things connected – it’s grown into a valuable business intelligence tool and resource.
Growth of WiFi in enterprises has been driven by an increased use of mobile devices and BYOD trends, as well as a surge in technological advancements such as the Internet of Things which demand more flexible connectivity than wired alone can offer. This, combined with consumer pressure for public WiFi hotspots, means that wireless LAN connectivity has become a standard expectation across the board.
The Development of WiFi
WiFi, like all forms of connectivity, comes in multiple standards; the latest of these being 802.11ac. The move to 802.11ac from the previous 802.11n standard brought with it the reliability and performance required to connect even the most advanced, data-heavy applications over WiFi.
802.11ac is capable of…
- 1300Mbps speeds
- Supports up to 8x MiMo antennas
- Operates over both the 2.4GHz and 5GHz channels, and
- Can maintain a better long range performance
All of which combine to deliver better throughput, efficiency and signal reliability.
The development of the 802.11ac standard, and the improved performance of WiFi as a result, has led to the advancement of wireless technologies across multiple industry sectors as enterprises turn to wireless LAN as a true connectivity alternative to wired networking.
WiFi in Action | Industry Examples
WiFi in Retail; the next step in customer service and understanding.
Retailers have dramatically increased the use of wireless technologies across their business, and they have become essential to running the store; from shop-floor applications such as RFID and pop-up Point of Sale (PoS) systems, to added value services such as free customer WiFi access. In retail though, WiFi is not just a customer service add-on or a tool for increased employee flexibility, but has instead become a valuable source of customer intelligence.
WiFi applications available today mean that retailers can track exactly how people move through their store; where do they enter and exit, what paths do they take, which areas are the busiest or get congested the most often? All of these knowledge points can enable retailers to optimise their shop floor to increase its impact on shoppers and convert more sales as a result. By using the data in real-time, it also means retail employees can make sure they are in the right place at the right time.
Retail stores and chains today are able to improve their customer understanding by leveraging guest WiFi access to gather additional information. This data doesn’t just refer to age, gender and location – retailers can also know how long they used the Internet for, how much data they used, which section of the store they spent the longest in, and so on, to provide more insights into the type of shopper the individual is. Collecting this demographic and behavioural data, combined with existing CRM, loyalty and PoS data, means that retailers can send highly targeted email, text and couponing promotions.
WiFi in Healthcare; connecting patients to healthcare workers.
Many critical healthcare applications today are now run over WiFi and have been enabled with the latest, high-performance 802.11ac standard. Able to deliver pervasive wireless connectivity, it is being used to stream data from connected medical equipment direct to mobile devices – enabling healthcare workers to access real-time patient information from any location and removing the need for physical patient files.
WiFi can also be leveraged by healthcare organisations to track patients as they move through their facilities, as well as track important and expensive assets such as wheelchairs, beds and equipment.
Guest WiFi for patients means that outpatient wait times can be put to good use, and inpatients can stay connected to friends and family more easily. Healthcare organisations can also update individuals with the latest information direct to their connected mobile device, as well as enable services such as self-check-in which can help to streamline workflows.
WiFi in Hospitality; maximising customer engagement and delivering new revenue opportunities.
Much like retailers, hospitality and event businesses such as restaurants, hotels, holiday resorts and stadiums, are using guest WiFi networks to deliver an added-value service to their customers. In doing so they are also able to collate additional detailed data about customer behaviour such as footfall and movement through the location, as well as customer demographics – all of which helps to create engaging and extremely targeted marketing campaigns to stimulate increased guest spend.
Hotels and holiday resorts can also maximise their online engagement with guests by using customised splash pages to promote their latest offers, such as spa treatments, while restaurants can promote their latest meal and drink promotions. Locations can even generate new revenue streams by offering third party advertising space to local or associated businesses.
Additional revenue can also be delivered through an optional, paid-for premium WiFi service which not only enables hospitality businesses to monetise their WiFi, but also to manage their bandwidth dedication intelligently to ensure the best possible service for those who need it the most.
WiFi can be used to…
All of which enables businesses to increase customer loyalty and life time value, while also reducing operational overheads and improving service.
Important Choices When Selecting a WiFi Solution
As can be seen, many industries are benefitting from the advancements made in WiFi connectivity. To ensure the best solution though, there are several key considerations which organisations need to evaluate when making the move to install or upgrade their wireless LAN service.
Futureproofing the network
Although some organisations may not yet be looking to expand their WiFi capabilities to the latest applications looked at here, the time when they will start to is not that far away. When investing in a wireless LAN solution it’s therefore important that businesses don’t just meet today’s needs, and that they select a solution which provides some futureproofing. It’s also important to look for a supplier who takes the future into account, in that their networking solutions have longevity.
Security is paramount
The primary factor holding back growth of WiFi networks today is security, but there are many solutions which answer this all-important requirement. When selecting a WiFi solution, it is important to ensure that it can offer the levels of security that the organisation needs and has the ability to separate corporate and guest traffic if it’s going to be used to deliver both. Wireless networks are at the edge of the enterprise network by their very nature, and so are most at risk to hacking attacks and other security risks, but with the right solution the network edge can be as well protected as the core.
Don’t compromise on hardware
Many businesses are tempted to opt for consumer-grade hardware to save on cost, but often regret this later and, most commonly, have to upgrade their system again. Enterprise-grade WiFi access points and controllers are essential to ensuring that the wireless LAN delivers a solid, reliable performance as they’re built to withstand 24/7 use and the multiple workloads generated from high numbers of active WiFi devices.
Total cost of ownership
Even when using enterprise-grade equipment it is still important to opt for high quality in place of cheap options – not just from a performance perspective but also from a cost-optimisation perspective. Although cheaper hardware will save money in the short term, it will ultimately cost the organisation more in the longer term. Cheap networking solutions typically cannot be managed and supported efficiently, generating high network maintenance costs. They also won’t support advanced features such as load-balancing, limiting their use.
Going for a high quality solution which has support options, simplified manageability, advanced features and remote deployment and upgrade capabilities will cost more initially, but save a lot in the long term – both in employee time and financial outlay.
Selecting the right hardware is one piece of a wireless LAN network; it’s important for organisations to work with trusted partners who can help them to design the right overall networking solution. For example, attention to details such as density of access points or the right management approach can be the making or breaking of a successful WiFi network.
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Introducing LANCOM Systems
Westbase Technology is an official distributer for LANCOM Systems, a leading manufacturer of end-to-end networking solutions.
Providing a broad range of WiFi access points, controllers and software layers, LANCOM covers all wireless LAN requirements – from the simple to the complicated.
Focused on delivering high performance networks which are reliable and sustainable, LANCOM are also recognised for developing some of the most secure networking solutions available – boasting the BSI certification and guaranteeing no back doors. Their wireless LAN product range covers all environments – indoor, outdoor and industrial – and also features more advanced capabilities such as iBeacon and wireless ePaper communications.
More about Wireless ePaper
The LANCOM Wireless ePaper range of displays integrates directly with their access points to deliver a cost effective active signage solution, perfect for applications such as meeting room signage, equipment and shelf labelling, where information needs to be updated remotely and automatically. Battery-powered, the displays require no cabling and operate completely wirelessly, with their information being updated over the existing wireless network. They can also be used to track assets when used for equipment labelling; the label can indicate where that piece of equipment should be at what times and by using the WiFi APs to triangulate a rough location, missing equipment can be found with ease.
More about iBeacon
Some LANCOM access points feature integrated iBeacon technology which operates in parallel, interference-free, to the core WiFi network. Continuously sending signals via the Bluetooth Low Energy radio standard, it is well-suited for near-field communications such as personalised, push marketing actions.