Nothing Magic About Gartner’s Quadrant When It Comes To Wi-Fi

I just digested the latest “Magic Quadrant for the Wired and Wireless LAN Access Infrastructure”, and I have a feeling I’m not the only WLAN professional or analyst that finds significant fault with what this once-decent “evaluation” has become.

Where to start with this train wreck? Maybe a little background is in order. Through 2011, Gartner dedicated a Magic Quadrant report to WLAN only, and one to Enterprise LAN. That changed in 2012, when they moved to  “Magic Quadrant for the Wired and Wireless LAN Access Infrastructure” format. And here’s where the problem starts. This thing doesn’t know what it wants to be… is it enterprise-oriented? Is it supposed to somehow capture the spirit of unified access? Is there supposed to be a decent analysis of the WLAN industry in here? I really can’t tell as it’s named and delivered. Despite Gartner’s overview of criteria up front in the report, it just feels bizarre when you dig into it.

You’ll notice this is not named the “Magic Quadrant for Unified Access”, which might more justify the “if you don’t have your own LAN switches, you can piss off as a WLAN vendor” reasoning that is in play here. But with a title like Wired and Wireless LAN Access, I’d expect to see companies that do LAN, WLAN, and both.  But since 2012, if a vendor doesn’t have switches AND a WLAN solution, then there’s No Soup For You. Forget that vendors OEM each others stuff, and that a company might be best of breed at either WLAN or LAN and mediocre at the other- you gotta have both to come to this weird party. Which leaves out some important players in the WLAN industry, like:

  • Ruckus Wireless – who happens to be rolling out one new municipal Wi-Fi deployment after another, doing many stadium deployments, and is visible all over my immediate area as viewed through the rogue detection on my own WLAN NMS
  • Meru Networks – who not so long was #3 in a market that was fairly defined as consisting of Cisco, Aruba, and Meru when it came to enterprise WLAN. Lately Meru is making noise in the SDN space, but more on that in a minute
  • AirTight Networks – An interesting newcomer to the WLAN access market (made the jump from WIPS-only), with growing market share and has been connected to some of the brightest technical minds in the industry (Akin, von Nagy)
  • Ubiquiti – like ’em or hate ’em, they are selling in volume, and are as viable of a Wi-Fi option as other players that made it into the Quadrant
  • Meraki – yes, Meraki is listed under Cisco, but even that is wonky in this context, as Meraki and Cisco have fundamentally different paradigms

Flash forward (clever plot device): D-Link made the quadrant, while Ruckus did not. 

Now let’s pick apart what is in the report a bit. Where vendors have “end to end” offerings that Gartner seems to harp on for this exercise, some of them are almost irrelevant because they aren’t “seen” the same way by those shopping for a solution. Adtran has a “complete” solution cobbled together from Adtran switches and Bluesocket Wi-Fi (purchased a few years back). Yet they are a niche player in the Wi-Fi world. Adtran made the quadrant, but Ruckus did not.

Aruba is a top-shelf, WLAN-centric market Force To Be Reckoned With.  They absolutely belong where they landed in the Leaders rankings. But Aruba is rebadged by Dell and Alcatel-Lucent. So Dell is “allowed” to combine their own switches with rebadged Aruba hardware to get into the quadrant… meanwhile, Dell made the quadrant but Ruckus did not.

The treatment of Cisco is pretty weird here, but that may be more Cisco’s problem (to a point) than Gartner’s. Though Meraki WLAN and Cisco WLAN are both technically Cisco WLAN, Meraki WLAN is worlds apart in functionality and approach from Cisco WLAN (I know, because I use them both). Gartner attempts to explain this, but when a product set like Meraki is reduced to being a bullet item under the Cisco heading, there’s something lacking in the analysis and delivery.

Uh… Huawei? Really? Guess what- Huawei made the quadrant but Ruckus did not.

For D-Link, I know pitting them against market leaders is unfair. I have no ill-will against D-Link, and frequently recommend D-Link products for the SMB/residential spaces. But Gartner’s own “cautions” outweigh the listed “strengths”, and the report stresses that D-Link lacks an enterprise reputation, and is a brand that “seldom comes up in conversations with Gartner clients”. But I bet of few of those clients ask about Ruckus on occasion.

Now that the SDN tide is rising (albeit not as fast as the media hype that goes along with it), the notion of “everything from one vendor” starts to be less important. Meru Networks, who I’ll remind you also did not make the quadrant, gets that. Fast forward down the SDN timeline, and the fact that a single vendor has switches and access points both becomes more irrelevant when it comes to what happens on SDN-enabled networks. Sure, you still need to manage the underneath networking, but many “single pane of glass” NMS are so poor at either WLAN or LAN that you’re frequently better off with one for each.

Finally, it’s my conjecture that Gartner is out of touch with who the WLAN industry itself sees as worth comparing. Each of these views shows head-to-head comparisons of various sorts by different vendors or IT experts (click picture for source doc):




I can’t remember the last time I saw a bake-off between Cisco, D-Link, and Huawei. Can you?

So how do you fix the Flawed Quadrant?

I’d urge Gartner to consider any and all of these:

  • Bring back a WLAN-specific quadrant
  • The market is so striated, show some effective creativity. Quadrants for MSP-suitable wireless, cloud-enabled wireless, true enterprise WLAN and other tiers
  • Stick to single lines (break out Cisco from Meraki)
  • Do a “Rebadgers Quadrant”

Just shooting from the hip with these, but the point is that the current Quadrant is a defective vehicle, and I think anyone who drives it is getting ripped off.

19 thoughts on “Nothing Magic About Gartner’s Quadrant When It Comes To Wi-Fi

  1. apcsb

    As far as I know, Meru never was #3, it was never nowhere near top5 even. Where is your data coming from? Ruckus, on the other hand, IS the global #3 EWLAN player now, pushing away HP. Note that I do not work for either of them 🙂

  2. wirednot Post author

    Meru pre-dates Ruckus. There was a time when doing an RFP for early controller-based WLAN meant getting quotes Cisco, Aruba, and Meru – at least in my world of big WLAN.

  3. Marc Bridge

    I let me first qualify that I work for Meru. I would encourage you to review back data from Del’Oro as we were indeed #3 due to our fast start in 11n in 2008 – 2011 just like we are currently in the top 5 of 11ac shipments.

  4. Marc Bridge

    Brilliantly written piece. I’ve been scratching my head about this for years. Especially given that Gartner also recommends that end users adopt multivendor networks to avoid gouging by their networking supplier. I guess that only applies to those not purchasing WLAN solutions. Exactly who would that be?

    1. apcsb

      I spent a while actually reflecting on your rhetorical question, and the best I could come up with was “WLAN vendors”. Would that count? 🙂

  5. Guylain

    Well done. We all know Gartner Magic Quadrant does not reflect reality and many customer are misled by it. Agree 100% with you!

  6. Rich Kusak

    Completely agree. I’ve worked with Cisco, Aruba, Aerohive, and Ruckus. Of the four, I keep going back to Ruckus. It’s so easy to install and it just works. Who was the official WiFi provider of the winter Olympics? Who’s moved into the number 1 spot for carrier WiFi deployments? Ruckus is a wireless force to be reckoned with, leaving them off the quadrant is seriously short sighted. When it comes to “unified access”, the thing that’s required to get you on the list, only Cisco really has their own serious enterprise play. Like you pointed you, Dell rebadges Aruba. Aruba has their own switch line (how many enterprises actually roll Aruba switches?) but they’ve also partnered with Brocade on a wired/wireless solution because Brocade actually has real wired customers. Aerohive has a great wireless product but their switches don’t do layer 3. Might be OK for SMB, but how many enterprises want a unified access system with no L3? With Juniper jumping in with Aruba and Extreme dumping Motorola for the Enterasys wireless gear, we’re seeing that the industry makes partnerships and acquisitions around best of bread mentality. Come’on Gartner, let readers make the same informed decisions by providing all the facts. Let wireless stand on the merits of wireless.

  7. James A

    Well, Ubiquiti just launched some switches, so they’ll make it in for next year. But I do agree overall.

  8. Pradeep

    Completely agree with your views here ! Now Gartner should justify the reason for not having a Quadrant only for WLAN market and they should re-consider brining it back again. I personally feel magic quadrant is slowly losing its charm !

  9. Jon Foster

    Agreed; having the combined LAN and WLAN quadrant is bonkers. The WLAN industry is growing and evolving quickly and warrants a separate evaluation. What makes a good LAN vendor does not necessarily make a good WLAN vendor.

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