Enterprise vs. Consumer Grade Wi-Fi – Is There a Difference?
The short answer? Yes!
“High performance” is one of those unquestioned qualities everyone seeks in a Wi-Fi network, and for good reason! But along with other fuzzy terms like “high density,” the phrase can describe vastly different approaches depending on who uses it.
Google ‘high performance Wi-Fi’ and see what pops up – lots of products and lots of prices. At first glance, it’s hard to distinguish a pattern. However, with a little more digging, you find there tends to be some price grouping, with a cluster of low-cost devices at one end, and a series of more expensive solutions at the other.
The underlying difference is what’s called the ‘grade’ of the product. At the top tier you have enterprise grade, the type of Wi-Fi deployed by businesses and organizations. The next rung down consists of consumer grade products – i.e. the thing probably sitting on top of your bookshelf or TV cabinet at home.
Both product classes are useful. Both are necessary. However, and most importantly, neither translates well into the other’s intended environment. You wouldn’t think for a minute of deploying $30 switches in your data center, or buying a $40 coffee maker for your company’s cafeteria. So why would you assume that the same Wi-Fi you deploy at home would work effectively in your business?
Businesses from hotels to cafés offer Wi-Fi to attract and retain customers, to differentiate themselves, or sometimes just to keep up with the competition. But while everyone appreciates a connection – especially one that’s free – the gesture means little without commitment to quality. If guests get promised reliable Wi-Fi, but the user experience proves inferior, it may have been better to not even offer. At least that way, you avoid missed expectations and negative reviews.
Enterprise grade Wi-Fi delivers meaningful advantages that optimize the user experience, making it easier to manage and leverage the high traffic typical of business-based networks. The following chart and rundown identifies the key features that separate the product classes.
|Reliability||Simplified Cloud Management||Traffic Analytics||Support & Warranty||User Onboarding Services|
- Reliability – When your home Wi-Fi fails, where do you go? Probably the local coffee shop, as they have a higher-end product you can usually count on. But these locations don’t succeed by having just the bare minimum of a working access point (AP). What’s really impressive is that many small businesses manage to sustain a strong user experience, even when 10, 20, or 30 people connect. That kind of demand isn’t something most households will ever deal with, so it makes sense to stick with a simpler, inexpensive option for home. A busy business environment, however, demands something more reliable and robust.
- Simplified Management – Nobody wants to log into their DSL router or modem and then fight their way through a tedious configuration, just to manage a Wi-Fi network. Cloud based and simplified, user-friendly management is key to offering an effective enterprise solution, as many small businesses don’t need or want to hire an ‘IT guy’ to handle the system for them.
- Traffic Analytics – Generating metrics on user traffic may not feel like a high priority today. But soon you will want to gather analytics for insights into customer behavior and preferences, allowing you to provide improved services. Retail businesses especially stand to gain from this commercial grade feature, by tracking in-store shopping patterns and using the data to enhance the buyer experience.
- Support & Warranty – Let’s say something goes wrong with an AP. Does your solution provide instant expert support? Will your warranty cover a quick replacement? Or do your users just sit and wait, connectionless, until you buy another cheap device?
- They’ll definitely be left waiting if you picked a solution designed for homes. Some home products only provide peer-to-peer support directing you to others who bought the same systems – hardly expert advice. And warranties range from nonexistent to 90 days max. That’s not the kind of safety net you want for a critical business investment.
- Onboarding Services- At home you normally need just one private SSID for family and friends. But running a business often requires additional onboarding capabilities. This could look as simple as an open SSID with one-click access. Another easy option? Allow login with social media credentials. To maximize security, you can even provide a secure access SSID for staff, while giving guests the ability the create their own private SSIDs as well.
My takeaway? Buying a consumer class system for a business network gives new meaning to the phrase “penny wise, pound foolish.” Sure, you might save upfront expenses, but the true costs will soon pile up in the form of constant repairs, time-consuming management procedures, and disgruntled customers.