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The battle for the wireless networking crown is heating up

A flurry of new partnerships and announcements suggests the market is getting competitive.


The IT world has been buzzing recently with partnerships and acquisitions on the wireless networking front. HP announced its decision to acquire Aruba Networks and will reportedly focus its efforts on new software that allows customers to manage entire networks with a single app. We also learned about the newly formed partnership between Juniper Networks and Ruckus Wireless, demonstrating Juniper's continued effort to become a real player in the wireless space. All interesting revelations, but will these changes pose a real threat to Cisco, the reigning networking champ?

With the explosion of BYOA in the enterprise, the advancement of the Internet of Things, and the number of wireless devices growing at a staggering rate, it's no surprise that the mobility movement is a focus for many organizations. Just how many devices are we connecting via wireless? How will the change impact the industry and your organization?

A few statistics for perspective:

  • According to the Cisco Visual Networking Index (VNI), the number of mobile-connected devices exceeded the world's population in 2014. Overall mobile data traffic is expected to grow to 24.3 exabytes per month by 2019, nearly a tenfold increase over 2014.
  • Gartner forecasts that 4.9 billion connected things will be used in 2015, up 30% from 2014, and will reach 25 billion by 2020.
  • Citing data from Gartner, Juniper says end-user spending on enterprise WLAN equipment will grow from $5.3 billion in 2015 to $7.8 billion worldwide in 2019, a compounded annual rate of 10.14%.

These statistics illustrate how widespread wireless connectivity is becoming. It's really not a question of if most organizations will be using wireless technology, but when, what kind, and how much?

The emergence of Wave 2 of 802.11ac is undoubtedly another catalyst for change. According to HP's blog, "…the industry is about to go through the next major wave of wireless protocol roll-out with 802.11ac, ushering in another significant change in wireless performance. Over the next 3-5 years, we believe this wave will drive a massive network refresh not just to our customers' wireless access points, but to their campus switches as well." Likely true, but which platform will customers be choosing for that network refresh?

Juniper and Ruckus claim the goal of their partnership is to provide customers with networks that are flexible, open, and reduce overall costs. By leveraging Juniper's Open Converged Framework, which supports the merging of wired and wireless networks from multiple vendors, these combined solutions will be open and standards-based.

Jennifer Blatnik, vice president of cloud and enterprise marketing at Juniper, stated in an interview with CRN, "We don't force customers to buy an all-Juniper solution. That's not the point. The point is to provide a network with flexible platforms so that customers can have the best solutions."

This mentality of not forcing an all-Juniper solution is a breath of fresh air and seems to differ from the perceived approach of many OEMs. Especially with end-of-life/end-of-sale announcements, customers often feel pressure to upgrade to the latest products even when those solutions may not make sense for their business needs at the time. There's a novel thought: putting the customer first.

Only time will tell if the HP/Aruba acquisition or the Juniper/Ruckus partnership will pose significant threats to Cisco's wireless networking business. While they will likely make a dent, HP, Juniper, and other OEMs looking to take the crown will certainly have many more battles to win. In today's changing technology landscape, organizations must be able to adapt to stay alive. With the changes we've seen over the past few months, the underdogs definitely deserve an A for effort. With 25 billion connected devices, and $7.8 billion soon to be spent, those who are adaptable and remember to keep the customer at the forefront will reap the rewards.

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