Forrester brought the wireless Forrester Wave™ back from the grave after an end-of-life announcement of it in 2007. Too many wireless innovations and changes in the vendor landscape have emerged not to dig it up and examine today’s solutions. The Forrester Wave: Wireless Local Area Network Solutions evaluated 10 wireless systems — Aerohive Solution, Aruba Mobility-Defined Networks, Cisco Aironet, Cisco Meraki, Fortinet Secure Wireless LAN, HP FlexNetwork WLAN, Meru Networks WLAN, Motorola Solutions WLAN,Ruckus Smart Wi-Fi products, and Xirrus Wireless— using 300 criteria asked in 58 questions . Besides the photo finish at the top, the wireless Forrester Wave reinforced what we were seeing and the reasons why the Forrester Wave needed to be resurrected:

  • All the vendors offered a solid set of traditional wireless capabilities . . . Basically, if the criteria only looked at indoor/outdoor hardware, antennas, 802.11ac access points, or other traditional wireless capabilities, all 10 vendors would be on everyone’s shortlist. In addition, all the solutions had solid set of capabilities to roll out guest access, allow employees to bring-your-own-device (BYOD), and offer location- based services.
  • . . . but delivery business value, beyond total cost of ownership, was the new differentiator. During the evaluation process, the wireless solutions started to diffuse across the chart when business value entered into the equation. A lot of recent wireless innovations center on the business elements, not technology, to help businesses win new customers, better serve their current ones, and drive new revenue streams in the distributed enterprise, hospitality, and retail industries.

You might ask, “How did Forrester find this out?” There are traditionally three distinct vectors that we use to evaluate these solutions:

  • Company view: The broadest view in the industry that looks at the entire portfolio, go-to-market activities, channel support, and other factors. Basically it compares the companies, such as Ford and General Motors, that you would find in a Harvard Business Review article.
  • System/solution review: This approach evaluates a particular solution and examines the scalability of the system, the standardization of operations, simplification of managing wireless services, sharing information and responsibilities, and securing the wireless service. I guess this could be considered a Consumer Reports-style evaluation.
  • Component review: At this level, the evaluation centers on mostly performance — access point throughput or the amount of clients that can be supported. I think of these as Motor Trend Magazine’s bake-off between Ford Mustang and Camaro in the 0-60 M.P.H. or quarter-mile test.

Each of the options have their pros and cons. Forrester’s approach is to answer what the customer actually gets when they buy a particular solution; we took the system-level approach, and the analysis was done based on a solutions questionnaire (sort of a request for proposal), interviewing customers, and participating in over 45 hours of wireless deployment and management real-time and non-scripted demonstrations. To be fair and transparent, we do ask questions about the vendor’s market presence — sales, service, research, and marketing — which contributes to the bubble size. It doesn’t contribute to the evaluation of the solution.

During the evaluations, Forrester found cutting-edge business capabilities to transform wireless from a cost center to business enabler, such as:

  • Aerohive’s distributed enterprise. Whether it’s 7-Eleven or Macaroni Grill, these businesses need the least amount of equipment with the most amount of services at their sites due either to the physical size of the location, lack of on-site resources, or poor WAN connectivity or transport options.
  • Aruba’s Meridian. Location-based services don’t mean a darn thing if the business can’t act on it. Meridian takes the rich set of data inside of wireless systems and hands it right to the person who needs it the most — the customer — at a hotel, casino, or stadium.
  • Motorola MPact. By tying together Wi-Fi and Bluetooth technology, retail stores can use the data to not only understand their shoppers better but provide them more accurate and timely information.
  • Ruckus Smart Access Management Service (SAM). SAM ties together Wi-Fi, cloud, and carrier-grade infrastructure to enable businesses to monetize Wi-Fi or resellers to offer managed Wi-Fi services.

Meshing these digital disruptors with inquiry calls I get from clients in the retail, hospitality, and healthcare industries, Forrester is creating three research papers centered on what it takes to create a business network within a retail store, hospital, and manufacturing site. These all have very unique environments that need more guest access, 802.11ac access points, or BYOD to make those industries more competitive. Please drop me an email or comment if you have experiences deploying networks in these locations and want to comment on the record or off the record. We would love to hear about your experiences and the corresponding lessons learned.