I have been tracking guest Wi-Fi platforms for over three years now and what amazes me the most is that I still hear new names of solution providers to date. As if there is an endless supply of suppliers. Some sources suggest there are more than 40 vendors in the market, which of course is simply not sustainable. This is a very confusing space from the perspective of the clients be them venues, brands or carriers. Perhaps this is the inevitable consequence of various players in the market coming from totally distinct backgrounds and DNAs:
- Marketing & Media DNA
- Wi-Fi Offload DNA
- Hardware DNA
- Analytics DNA
- Security DNA
- Servicer Provider DNA
With players coming from such a diverse set of backgrounds, it is no wonder customers are confused. While all provide some basic features such as captive portal and engagement tools, they attempt to differentiate by either focusing on a specific vertical or by adding their special sauce to the offering.
Most providers have established their first deployments focusing on venues and select verticals such as retail and hospitality and are slowly trying to tap into the service providers market. Others prefer to expand their offering independently of market segmentation, adding security features on top of their engagement platform with a strong urge to create some kind of differentiation in an over-crowded space.
In a previous blog, we wrote about “What Should You Look for in a Guest Wi-Fi Platform” and concluded that as far as features, the right choice of a platform will naturally depend on your business goals, preferences, and possibilities. Those with a service provider DNA claim they have a more robust platform than the “niche” players but at the end of the day, businesses and organizations will use Enterprise-level Wi-Fi Protected Access—preferably WPA2 with AES encryption—to secure their WLAN, which requires the use of a RADIUS server for the 802.1X authentication. I am sure there are other considerations to worry about at the core network level and integration with the carrier OSS/BSS as well.
From my experience speaking to both clients and witnesses issues behind the scenes is that beyond the glossy websites and marketing claims, clients should be wary about two critical aspects which are – the long-term viability of their supplier, as well as their ability to deliver custom changes and developments on time and budget. The reality is that each sizeable customer will want adaptations to these platforms to meet their needs. Each supplier roadmap is influenced at 80% by customer requirements while 20% represents the supplier own strategic view of what will be needed.
I have heard stories of suppliers taking forever to fix their bugs and imposing a high degree of complexity and features not required by their customers with an attempt to lock them in. Unfortunately, only experience dealing with the supplier can reveal how flexible and accommodating the solution is and how important you are as a customer in the supplier roadmap and support. In many cases, the bulk IT development is situated offshore in India, Sri Lanka or Eastern Europe. Some companies provide white label development for others with a stronger brand.
At the base of the guest Wi-Fi product pyramid, there are numerous players. At the end-user interaction and data analytics level, the field is already narrower, with fewer vendors offering smarter solutions. At yet higher levels, there may only be one or two companies offering effective solutions, like RaGaPa and its CaptiveXS solution, for example.
The next step is yours. Assess your needs, your DNA, see how different features should be combined to meet those needs, and then make a shortlist of suitable solutions. Make your final choice by evaluating vendor support, responsiveness, pricing, and track record. Then make the most of your guest Wi-Fi solution that best fir your own DNA!