AV integrators might not think of themselves as influencers when it comes to their customers’ WiFi network decisions. “Why not?” asks Open Mesh, a provider of cloud-managed WiFi systems for small- to medium-sized businesses – in other words, typical AV integration customers.
“Networks are omnipresent in the commercial world; they’ve become the corporate backbone for sharing, storing, and manipulating information,” said Ryan Detwiller, general manager, Open Mesh. “But more than that, networks, including WiFi networks, are quickly evolving into environmental platforms onto which all kinds of applications now sit.”
So if the AV is sitting on the WiFi network, why aren’t the AV companies involved in delivering those WiFi networks?
“In the AV industry, there has been a steady migration to IP-based solutions and signal distribution, so there is a natural merging of one into the other,” Detwiller adds.
“AV integrators are already becoming more proficient in IP-based systems and network integration, and we hope that these forward thinking integrators see our products and our value proposition as an opportunity to grow. We’ve already seen a number of integrators add Open Mesh to their toolkit, and they’ve really embraced us as an ideal network solution.”
Open Mesh, therefore, is targeting AV integrators to help deliver its cloud-managed WiFi systems to companies. Detwiller talked to Commercial Integrator about Open Mesh and why he thinks AV integrators ought to rethink their role in WiFi.
CI: Why should integrators get involved in network deployment when that has historically been the domain of traditional IT management professionals?
Detwiller: Two words: Survival and Prosperity.
Integrators who don’t embrace this convergence of signal distribution technology will become obsolete as they face increasing competition on two fronts: Fellow integrators who are expanding their services and embracing networks as an opportunity, as well as traditional IP professionals who view AV as now a part of their domain and an opportunity for larger budgets.
But Open Mesh is a WiFi company. Most AV systems are still dependent on wires? Even with new compression technologies, video still hogs a lot of bandwidth. Where do you fit in?
Detwiller: We don’t see wired networks leaving the ecosystem anytime in the near future. Rather, WiFi exists with, and as part of, wired networks.
Integrators who don’t embrace this convergence of signal distribution technology will become obsolete as they face increasing competition.
But advances in WiFi have increased the number of applications that use it, and there’s almost always a wireless component to any AV system.
Knowing that, and recognizing that improvements are being made both in compression technologies and in WiFi throughput and capacity, we see tremendous opportunity for growth.
Open Mesh has also evolved. While WiFi is still our core product, we’ve expanded into a full line of cloud-managed IP switches and will ship a router and firewall in early 2018.
What are the advantages of a cloud-managed WiFi network to integrators? To their customers?
Detwiller: The benefit of cloud-managed systems comes from being able to set up, configure or reconfigure, monitor and manage systems remotely. So in cases where a company might have multiple locations or multiple networks, the network management for all the locations can be centralized and standardized.
You can configure a network once and use that for all new installations.
Another benefit of cloud management is that it is typically very easy with just an Internet connection required. You don’t need to configure individual devices or local controllers, which can be complex and introduce points of failure.
What is the learning curve like to deploy an Open Mesh – or similar – network? Is special training or certification necessary?
Detwiller: As with any new system or piece of equipment, some training is necessary. But that training will depend on the person’s existing knowledge of or familiarity with network technology in general.
Compared to traditional networks of five years ago, cloud-managed networks are typically much easier to deploy and manage and rarely require a formal training or certification.
For simple deployments of a few thousand square feet, most first time Open Mesh customers are up and running in an hour or so.
Is special software needed?
Detwiller: All manufacturers in this space have their own, proprietary cloud management software. But most professionals have become pretty adept at learning new software.
We provide our CloudTrax software for free; it’s very intuitive and quite robust. And our help center and customer support team are always available to answer questions.
Is this a one-time sale opportunity, or are their potential future sales or recurring revenue opportunities?
Detwiller: As in AV installations, the major opportunity is usually the initial sale. But as companies grow – either in an existing location or adding new locations, the opportunities for add-on sales are real. Also, networking technology changes fast, and most customers will upgrade within two to four years.
Cloud-based WiFi falls comfortably into the managed services business model.
As for recurring revenues, cloud-based WiFi falls comfortably into the managed services business model, which Commercial Integrator recently referred to as the holy grail of business models.
We’re seeing some customers charging a monthly fee for network management and support.
Some are also adding additional applications on top of the network, such as a marketing platform or IoT solution. So there certainly are opportunities to monetize the network over time.
The beauty of a cloud-based system is that integrators can manage an almost unlimited number of networks for any number of clients from a single dashboard, administering passwords, setting security access levels, configuring new equipment and more, including providing analytic reports in WiFi usage patterns.
We’re excited at the opportunity to work with AV integrators. And we’re looking forward to their feedback and input as we develop our relationships with them.