Pondering WLAN Innovation

The modern wireless network, regardless of who creates the components, is certainly getting complicated. But is it innovative?

Asked another way- does sheer complexity equal innovation? And who decides what constitutes an innovative feature or component? Is it the vendor? The customer? A developer thousands of miles away from both?

Here’s where I pause, and assure readers that what follows is not meant to bash any company, I’m simply pondering what innovation means to today’s WLAN, and whether it couldn’t perhaps be stewarded along a bit more collaboratively as the world gets increasingly more dependent on the fruits of our wireless labor and our systems get fatter with features.

There are a lot of definitions of Innovation, and some pretty fascinating reads on the topic. For the purpose of what’s on my mind, I’ll call innovation a good idea that serves customers well with some meaningful market duration while making the originator a profit. Simple enough. If I had to give innovation a formula, it might look like:

(Good Idea + Customer Acceptance) x (Time on Market + Affordability) =  Amount of Innovation
Or something like that.

Back to the question of who decides what constitutes innovation? If a new feature or product is marketed as “an innovative new offering”, my first thought would be “how do you know it’s innovative if it hasn’t proven itself in the market yet?” Time judges innovation, not the person who came up with the idea. Sure, HP’s TouchPad was an engineering accomplishment, but if it was really innovative, it wouldn’t have tanked, would it have? Or maybe it’s too harsh to say that “failed innovations weren’t really innovative after all” (Perhaps some would-be innovations come along at the wrong time- again, I’m just pondering.)  Whatever- it’s heady stuff to contemplate at the analytic level.

Back to wireless networking. I look at some of the systems I use (both for client access and WLAN management) and see a mix of innovation and feature bloat. Sure, there are nice aspects that bring value to the typical customer, but also ill-conceived features that obviously were never presented to a WLAN Admin Focus Group. Because they are all packaged together, you have have to tolerate the non-innovative distracting stuff to get into the innovative features, It’s just the nature of the beast. Maybe this overall affect could be improved. Maybe we should start hyping BYOI as much as we hype BYOD.

What’s BYOI? It’s Bring Your Own Innovation- and we need more portals for it between customers and WLAN makers.

Wireless network administrators know what they need. Arguably, they can be serve as the advisory panel for features likely to be good innovations, and also judges for when an innovation has “expired” and needs to be replaced (why I am thinking of Apple’s Bonjour protocol?) Sure, vendors give us hyper-complicated systems bursting with graphics and endless menus, but that doesn’t mean we’ve been given innovation. And innovations don’t have to be crazy disruptive and life-altering for the entire WLAN space, they can just be simple little changes that we’d buy more of because they are needed.

Without a clearly defined method of getting feedback and feature requests to decision makers within WLAN companies, it is my conjecture that innovation suffers. Meraki came close to getting it right with their Make a Wish mechanism (i remember being thrilled when I asked for alerting on DHCP pool exhaustion and then it showed up shortly after), but even after I made my wish, there was no way of knowing whether it was heard. Or whether others had asked for it as well. For many big companies, the culture seems to be “you the customer can just wait for us to innovate on your behalf, and if you feel like getting frustrated feel free to talk to your SE who also has no clue what’s coming”. Again- no bashing; the WLAN industry is generally amazing. But some of us would like to influence the innovation we pay for and help the mothership to realize when they get it wrong in the name of innovation.

Wouldn’t it be cool if each vendor (or the industry itself) had a portal for  “What Admins Love and What Admins Hate About The Current System”? Ideally, it would be visible to at least other customers of the same system so we could see what our peers are also thinking. And if once a year, the feedback was aggregated, sorted, and put in a Top 5 of Loves and Hates with vendor commitment to answer them in some meaningful way (“Yes, we see that 98% of you hate the new Flash Interface, we’ll try to work on that by 12-months out”, or “75% of you would like to see ______ but here’s why that is technically impossible” kinda stuff). Or if not a feedback dashboard, some mechanism that accomplishes the same thing.

We The Wireless People would love to have more of a hand in innovation, for everyone’s benefit. We’re closest to our clients, we know what we need, and we know what we don’t. And if it doesn’t get used, it isn’t innovative.

2 thoughts on “Pondering WLAN Innovation

  1. Dani (@DaniF15)

    If you are a telco company and you make a “wish” in your RFP they will fulfill it.(-;

    My point of view on innovation in wireless –
    only 2 ways you can innovate in “wireless” – mac or phy. due to wifi being a standard and vendors are not making their own chip-sets there is not much you can do on the mac side , you can play with the rate control ,supported rates etc. but that’s not innovation that’s configuration… on the antenna side on the other hand its a different story….

    of curse you can do lots of innovation in the controller but that networking innovation not wireless…..

  2. wirednot Post author

    Thanks, Dani- sure, you can’t innovate (much) beyond the standard that defines a given wireless technology. I completely agree with that.But the whole contemporary wireless experience also includes management, monitoring, reporting, troubleshooting, guest services, spectrum analysis, security, location services, auto-RF (or not) integration with other systems, headaches like Apple’s Bonjour protocol, etc- each vendor has their own approach to each and bundles it all in their own ways. Some are far more effective than others- I’m talking about the whole enchilada when I say “wireless” but should have been clearer about that.


Tell me what YOU think.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s