Not everyone wants a smartphone, despite the hard push and somewhat natural evolution of those wonderful devices to market dominance. Some people are fine with off-brand tablets, low end PCs, and generic MP3 players. And- not all environments need expensive, feature-packed Wi-Fi. Before you curse me, let me finish…
There is no doubt that pretty much any and every environment could benefit from higher-end wireless or something off of the growing menu of MSP WLAN offerings. But at the same time we all don’t have to spend the increased up-front or the “As-a-Service” dollars just to get into new Wi-Fi. I love the premise of the residential Skydog paradigm and just sat through a couple of days at Wireless Field Day 6 hearing about some of the best feature sets in the contemporary enterprise WLAN market. Yet, I still see the value in going simple (in the right situation) and keeping more money in your pocket.
The old adage “you get what you pay for” actually doesn’t map perfectly to the wireless space. There are high-dollar options and installations in the WLAN market that provide as many headaches and under-used options as they do worthwhile features. There are also a number of lower-end components that can do quite well for smaller environments or even some larger ones where simple access for a limited number of client devices is all that’s needed. Combine hardware from the likes of TP-Link or Linksys (or step up a bit to Ubiquiti) with open-source firmware like DD-WRT and services like Open DNS, and you will likely do quite well WHERE YOUR NEEDS ARE SIMPLE. Even a low-end solution built on researched components and software can get you to a decent place for Wi-Fi on the cheap that includes respectable security, application controls, rate limiting, time of day restrictions, a simple guest portal and other niceties. Of course it helps to know what you are doing, and to realize what you are giving up by going cheap. But it can certainly be done quite effectively.
So why is a WLAN professional who deals with Enterprise-grade WI-Fi that serves dozens of thousands of clients a week pointing out that it’s still OK to look at lower-end gear if it seems your situation may warrant it? Because it is. Because even in this era of $200 digital cable TV packages, some of us still choose to get our signals for free over the air. Because even when every new car comes with a handful of available technical subscription services (OnStar, satellite radio, Wi-Fi, etc), its OK to say no. It really is OK.
Everything is a trade-off, usually involving dollars saved versus forfeited features. And sometimes the real TCO of going cheap can be surprisingly high over time, but this is usually attributable to botched implementation or ignorance at purchase time. But get it right, and Little Wireless can pay big dividends. In many ways, today’s Little Wireless can be the equivalent of not-so-long-ago’s Big Wireless, which actually worked pretty good when done correctly.
I’m not advocating turning your back on pricey wireless, but reminding that sometimes you can.