July 17, 2017
By Ryan Orsi, Director of Product Management, Wi-Fi, WatchGuard Technologies
More than 9.1 million stores, cafes, hotels and other sites worldwide offer Wi-Fi, according to analysis firm Maravedis. If you look at this growth map, you can watch the number of global hotspots increasing at about two per second.
Not only do end customers expect connectivity, companies have learned that Wi-Fi can improve their bottom lines by acting as a source of leads and valuable marketing data, if they do security right. Because my company sells exclusively through the channel, our partners constantly send us requests for new and different Wi-Fi services. I’ve distilled these requests to the top four value-added services most important to our mutual SMB customers. Presented here in order of least-to-most complicated, all of these represent potential ongoing billable services for the channel.
1. Managed Wi-Fi: ‘Can you just handle it all for me?’
Does Wi-Fi seem like black magic to you? You’re not alone (actually, you’re probably in the majority). Most SMBs don’t have the time or expertise to manage Wi-Fi as a business tool. They’re not IT people; they’re baristas and bookstore owners focused on doing their actual jobs. There’s an opportunity for managed service providers to take over the management and troubleshooting of the Wi-Fi networks they install. Our channel partners charge on either a per-user or per-access-point (AP) basis for ongoing management and troubleshooting. There are additional revenue opportunities for partners that can easily add or remove APs to scale the network in lockstep with growth, as for seasonal spikes.
2. Security: ‘Can you keep me and my customers safe from malicious hackers?’
At this level, customers primarily are looking for protection from wireless threats. Businesses like coffee shops and hotels want to offer secure Wi-Fi to their guests — they need protect their brand reputations, especially since there have been so many major data breaches in the news recently. Health care or retail customers also need to worry about PCI 3.2 or HIPAA compliance, driving them to ask for wireless security services.
Wireless intrusion detection systems (WIDS) or wireless intrusion prevention systems (WIPS) provide this kind of wireless security. These solutions detect when someone is trying to hack a network and can automatically block the attack. Some APs offer these security capabilities built in; other times you need to purchase separate WIDS or WIPS products. Service providers with the right security know how and portfolios can offer PCI- or HIPAA-complaint Wi-Fi to customers for a monthly fee. Some also offer a monthly vulnerability assessment service where they scan a customer’s network for vulnerabilities and send them a report on any security issues they find.
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Service providers offering WIPS should ensure their products have an extremely low false-positive rate to avoid an embarrassing and illegal situation. WIPS products can automatically block benign APs that the system does not recognize; say, those set up by the boutique next door. It’s illegal to interfere with someone else’s wireless device, and doing so may result in an FCC fine. So, while WIPS offers vital network protection, a subpar version might get you into trouble.
3. Development: ‘Can you make it look pretty for my customers?’
When you log on to the guest Wi-Fi network at a hotel or restaurant, you’re usually greeted with an attractive splash page with information about the company and a button to connect to the Internet. Small businesses should be eager to create these pages, and use them as part of their marketing campaigns.
Some APs allow users to log on using their social media profiles and will then collect users’ public social profile info to assemble lists of leads. It’s also possible to send customers push notifications with coupons or announcements when they connect to the Wi-Fi in a store. Sometimes this capability is included in the AP, but more often, it’s a third-party tool that integrates with the AP (look for solutions with this built in).
Hospitality and retail businesses are extremely interested in these marketing services. If you have customers in those verticals, you should be offering this capability.
4. Real-time data: ‘Can you track my customers’ locations (but not in a creepy way)?’
Modern APs can triangulate the position of connected devices. Monitoring this information lets businesses see how people are moving around inside their brick-and-mortar stores — like Google Analytics for physical locations. Store managers can see if people are stopping to look at their new displays. Marketing and sales managers can see how foot traffic in certain store locations compares with others.
Again, this technology is usually offered via a third-party service, but some vendors build it directly into their APs. This service is extremely popular in the retail industry, but there is also interest from conference and trade show organizers who want data on how people move around the show floor. Service providers who can generate reports on this type of information will end up with a lot of happy, data-driven customers.
Today, customers want a return on investment from their Wi-Fi. It’s no longer a sunk cost; it’s a tool that can deliver ROI in the form of leads, data, and new marketing opportunities. Service providers, resellers, distributors and vendors throughout the IT channel should evaluate these four levels of Wi-Fi service. Customers are calling, will you answer?
Ryan Orsi is director of product management for Wi-Fi at WatchGuard Technologies.
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