Linksys Expands Into SMB Market with Remote Wi-Fi Management Tool
Nearly six years after Cisco sold off its Linksys Wi-Fi router subsidiary to Belkin, the two companies are now competing for partners that sell IT and mobility solutions to small businesses.
Linksys is best known as a premium brand of Wi-Fi gear for consumers, but its parent Belkin has quietly ramped up a plan to offer its commercial-grade wireless access points through partners that serve small businesses. The company just launched its new cloud-based remote configuration and management tool.
Unlike the company’s consumer products that are available direct or through retailers, solutions offered with the new Linksys Cloud Manager for small businesses are only available through a newly formed program for partners — primarily systems integrators, and more pointedly, managed service providers (MSPs). Each access point will include the Cloud Manager license for five years.
Wayne Newton, director of commercial business for Linksys, emphasized the company’s decision to provide the Cloud Manager license at no extra cost with the Linksys Business Wireless-AC Access Points. It’s available now on the dual band LAAC1200C (1,200 Mbps) and LAPAC1750C (1,750 Mbps) ,and will come to the LAPAC2600C (2.53 Gbps with MU-MIMO support) in November. The list prices of the access points range from $200-$500.
Linksys Cloud Manager bundled with the access points will appeal to MSPs because they will anchor a turnkey Wi-Fi deployment of hardware bundled with the service-management offering that they can offer affordably on a subscription basis, according to Newton.
“This solution, its features and cost structure were built with MSPs in mind,” Newton said. “The free cloud license is available on every access point, so MSPs with multiple customers can take advantage of it in charging service/solution fees.; in fact, the more customers and more access points, the larger the opportunity.”
Newton, who came over to Belkin from Cisco following the Linksys divestiture, believes the new Cloud Manager offering fills an untapped middle ground between Wi-Fi solutions for consumers and enterprises.
Most enterprise-grade WiFi gear requires separate subscriptions for the management tools, Newton noted, The move by Linksys to extend its brand into small businesses comes just two weeks after its former parent, Cisco, stepped down-market with a new entry-level wireless networking and management solution for SMBs with the launch of its new Meraki Go Wi-Fi line.
“Six years ago, we were part of Cisco and one of the biggest reasons we’re not part of Cisco anymore is we could not produce Cisco margin,” Newton said. “But lots of businesses make money at less than Cisco margin. It’s just a different dynamic. We don’t have to charge that much, and we can still make a buck — and that’s why we’re making this SMB play.”
The offerings from Cisco Meraki, and other Wi-Fi solutions from providers such as HPE’s Aruba Networks, Ruckus Wireless, Juniper and Extreme Networks, are more expensive than the new Linksys solution, Newton said.
“Hardware controllers can cost many hundreds or thousands of dollars,” he said. “Licensed software continues to add cost when it comes to your annual subscriptions. We believe what we’re coming out with will be very disruptive by having a zero cost on top of managing their product. And that’s where we see our differentiation as part of it.”
Because enterprise WLAN gear is expensive, Newton said many small businesses have opted for consumer-based alternatives from the likes of Ubiquiti Networks, which lack the level of security and other features that commercial access points provide.
“They use consumer chip sets, come with a one-year warranty and have [limited] support,” he said. “It’s kind of buyer beware.”
While it’s debatable to what extent, if any, Cisco and Belkin’s Linksys group are stepping on one another’s turfm since it’s new terrain for both, the focus on small businesses demonstrates a potential land grab for a market that analysts say is underserved.
“Network management is a complex issue and there has been a lack of an intuitive and easy-to-use solutions for SMBs,” said Sanjeev Aggarwal, founder and principal analyst at SMB Group.
Cloud Manager has basic features such as allowing organizations to create guest logon access, visibility of all networks and over-the-air firmware updates. Warren Tsang, a partner with LogicShark Consulting in New York, looked at Cloud Manager and gave Belkin some feedback, mostly as it pertained to some suggestions to improve the user interface.
Tsang noted that while the Linksys offering is not intended for those who require advanced features such as content filtering and mobile client management, it’s suited for small businesses with basic requirements.
“I think it’s a cost-effective solution for smaller companies to get up and running quickly,” Tsang said. “It’s easy to roll out — just configure it; you don’t even need the device on hand. Once it’s plugged in, it finds the internet, and everything gets configured, up and running on the same network addresses.”
Raymond Boggs, VP of SMB research at IDC agreed that that the new Linksys solution is a good fit for MSPs and customers who use them who use the included Cloud Manager license.
“I think the smarter service providers will use Cloud Manager as part of their core offering rather than try to make more money by offering it as an add-on,” Boggs said. “As SMBs grow and their wireless networks become more complicated, having a service provider take up some of that management burden will be pretty compelling.”