WLAN vendors have the right to promote their products. Actually, they have a duty to- that’s just business. And it stands to reason that they need to evolve their products to stay competitive and to meet the changing demands of the greater network world that they operate in. But these vendors also need to stay on the right side of certain lines, and to remember that we buy their stuff to build reliable networks. R-e-l-i-a-b-l-e. That truth can’t get lost in the quest for ever more features to market. On that point, these are exciting times to be in marketing when it comes to wireless and networking because the sky is the limit for the latest round of buzzwords to sling. But when buzzwords become what is actually being sold, then one of those lines that shouldn’t be crossed most certainly has been.
Why It Matters NOW
For those of us that have been in the wireless game for a long time, unfulfilled promises and poor output from certain industry groups are a way of life. That’s not to say that Wi-Fi isn’t an utterly amazing, transformative technology. It most certainly is. But just like politicians can make promises that no one blinks at when they stay unfulfilled, many WLAN-related organizations and entities have become known as much for what they don’t deliver as for what they do. Examples:
- The IEEE’s insistence on backwards-compatibility with dark-ages standards has gotten to the point where it’s self-defeating.
- Seldom does any 802.11 standard live up to its promise or most-touted differentiating functionality.
- The Wi-Fi Alliance continues to excel in talking up its certifications, while its device-maker members have created a bewilderingly fragmented client space that is only getting worse.
- Many “analyst reports” are simply paid results, where guess who wins? (Hint- there is some money changing hands.)
- Over a decade ago, WLAN vendors promised central management would be soooo much better than autonomous access point paradigms. But in the case of one market-leader, the gains are frequently negatively balanced out by embarrassing code quality, perversely expensive licensing paradigms, and a focus on glitzy corporate image over simply providing highly reliable solutions.
This is our reality as enterprise WLAN professionals. But good WLAN engineers understand the weird of it all, manage it, and still deliver networks that serve their customers well. That is, until that last bullet point rears its head- because we have little control over the code quality that flows out of San Jose’s sewers at times.
Hype Shouldn’t Be What You Lead With
Now that we’re in a time where artificial intelligence, SDN, machine learning, and data-driven everything is all around us, there’s a lot to be excited about. But the words themselves don’t make a solution good. Self-driving automobiles responsibly developed by experienced data scientists? That’s exciting. Long-in-the-tooth quirky network hardware with new APIs hooked into it and painted up as New Magic? Nope- not exciting. Worrisome even.
We OUGHT to be excited about AI, machine learning, and all of the other now-hyped buzzwords flying around out there. But we’re seeing too much of the cart being put before the horse from certain vendors. The same crappy building blocks unfortunately ARE in play in fancily-named new strategies that are being heavily marketed by one market leader as if they were already proven to be worth all the noise and paychecks to celebrity marketers (Peter Dinklage, intuitive).
Other vendors are saying “look- AI! Now pay up with giant costs and endless licenses!” But some of us have been down this road when it was paved with different slogans and marketing campaigns, and cautious skepticism is in order. Maybe the vendors can (and should) prove that they have fixed the cultures that have resulted in their sins of the past before asking us to embrace the latest flavor of the month and the fat fees that come with it.
Now comes 802.11ax
Catch any webinar on 802.11ax and you’ll realize that a truly new day is coming to the WLAN world. It’ll be complicated, fraught with ridiculous promises, but like other standards before it- it will be better. We just don’t know how much better yet. Part of that “better” will depend on how vendors stitch together their AI/intuition/psychic-like-Madame Cleo/tastes-great/less filling stuff and the new .11ax technology. It could be fantastic, or it may turn out to be utterly maddening.
Which way it all goes will depend on the vendors putting as much energy and budget into tightening up their shit as they are into hyping what doesn’t yet really work well (by CUSTOMER standards, not those of perpetually clueless developers). Things are getting way too complicated to continue to crowd-source quality assurance to customers’ production networks and not expect significant blow-back when things flake out. And in the case of one vendor- I’m predicting utter folly if the old problematic code and hardware is carried forward as part of the “new” solution. That’s what my intuition tells me.