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May 21, 2015

NETGEAR Q&A: Getting a wireless network ROI & preparing for the IoT

Wi-fi is increasingly considered a core part of an organisation's IT network.

By Alexander Sword

CBR chats to Peter Hannah, Regional Director for UK, Ireland & Nordics at NETGEAR, about networking and where the market is heading.

CBR: What benefits can businesses get from wireless networks?

PH: I don’t know a business that doesn’t have wi-fi as pretty much part of its own network. Effectively, if you’re a business you want to provide seamless access, wherever it is. The challenge for a business is providing a network that gives people the same level of access whether they are wired or wireless. That’s not really that different from how it’s been for a number of years. BYOD has been around for five or six years now, and the requirements for businesses haven’t changed.

What some businesses have done is either not implemented something particularly well and had a bad user experience, or spent a lot of money and struggled with access control and integration. Those two issues are fairly easy to address.

We offer free site surveys to allow businesses to understand where the best places to put access points are if you’re going to implement wi-fi. We look at the network and make sure that it has enough capacity to support the increase of devices and user demands that you would have if you implemented a wireless network.

We’ve embarked quite heavily in the last year into hospitality. We did a survey that showed that hotels didn’t think that they needed to implement wi-fi whereas the majority of business users felt that they wouldn’t go back to a hotel if it didn’t have wi-fi.

What we’ve discovered is that with a lot of hotels that are implementing wi-fi, the first hurdle that they come across is that they’re charging for it. However, customers expect free wi-fi. If you look at Trip Advisor reviews, people say that wi-fi costs the earth.

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When you implement wi-fi in a hotel, the ability to create things like landing pages that advertise your food and drink and the ability to collect data and analytics from your customers and use them to remarket to your customers are proving a much more compelling argument than charging someone for wi-fi. We’re seeing hotels now pushing out more free wi-fi but using it as a marketing tool with the data that they collect.

I think if you look at businesses on the whole, there’s a wide range of benefits from wi-fi. Going back to what I said about BYOD, if you are trying to attract a younger audience, they’re going to want to bring their smartphones and their tablets to use them in a work environment. If an organisation provides wireless as standard, it helps them attract a younger generation of people and effectively fill their workforce for growth in the future.

CBR: How can enterprises quantify the return on investment (ROI) of a wireless network?

PH: I think you have to put ROI in terms of things such as increased productivity, which is perhaps a softer ROI. We did a survey that said introducing a wireless networking increases company morale and team-building, so that people have the opportunity to move around the building and have a better quality of working environment.

About half of those surveyed said that this is important and it increases productivity. As the company grows in size that becomes more important. That productivity leads to your ROI. I don’t think you can get a straight benefit, but using things like increasing your talent base and improving your brand image helps you justify a ROI on a wi-fi system.

So does this mean looking at areas where you didn’t expect to make savings before?

The savings and benefits are probably slightly softer. An increase in productivity will eventually lead to an increase in revenue, staff retention leads to a decrease in cost and making the brand look modern helps with increasing your revenue and growing your business.

CBR: Are businesses receptive to these soft gains?

PH: If you look at hospitality again, we’ve seen a lot of hotels that want to move their wi-fi because it removes that customer complaints issue. There’s a really straight line from customer satisfaction there that you can take from hospitality and apply to any business. A business will want to attract talent and retain staff through a happier working environment. Those soft benefits are starting to be realised a lot more, rather than the attitude that they need to make the network pay in 12 months.

CBR: What practical approach should businesses be taking towards networking?

PH: If we assume that there are more soft benefits to a network than there is a hard ROI, the key thing is to understand how much money you can invest in extending your network. We can do that quite simply through site surveys; we have a team of guys who go the length and breadth of the country, looking at people’s network and building.

If you’re rolling out a wired network you know how many cable runs you need to do and you know how many access points you need. With a wireless network you could spend a lot of money and not provide a complete network for your users. A badly done wireless network is ten times worse than an averagely done [wired] network.

You need to define beforehand what your coverage needs to be and how much equipment you need. I would probably say to anyone, get a site survey done. This makes it simple and quantifiable for the network manager.

CBR: With the oncoming demands of the IoT, how can enterprises know how much capacity they need to provide for?

PH: I’ve got a NETGEAR router at home, and one of the things it tells me is how many devices are connected to my network. We had 15 devices connected to our network, including tablets, workphones, personal phones, laptops, TVs etcetera.

If you take that from a consumer environment to a work environment, actually a company is going to see a massive explosion in wearable tech, whether this is Apple Watches, monitoring equipment or RFID. All of this is going to impact on the network capacity.

A few years ago we were just looking at 10GB at the top of the rack. Now technically you’re pushing out that capacity to the edges of the network. If you’ve have the ability to expand [that network], with a wi-fi network that supports not only the growth of users but also the growth of devices, whether that’s because you’ve got additional capacity or whether you’ve got faster speeds, you’re supporting as best you can an explosion of devices and an explosion of communication across the network.

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