Emerging Wi-Fi companies: Competitive threat or ankle biters?

If you take a good look at the enterprise Wi-Fi infrastructure market, you’ll note that the youngest company is about 4 years old. Translated, that means nobody new has hit the scene in quite some time.

Looking more closely, you’ll see that a rising tide is lifting all boats, and further, emerging companies are growing like weeds due to bringing some slick new technologies to market that change the de facto architectural paradigm. You can’t accurately call any current enterprise Wi-Fi infrastructure company a startup, though I guess you could call some of them “emerging companies”.

Cisco is losing Wi-Fi market share like President Obama is losing approval rating … though Cisco is currently about 10 percentage points better off than the President’s current 45%. So who are they losing it to, and why? The answers are 1) everyone, and 2) because they don’t innovate. They are surrounded by aggressive, innovative companies that move at a breakneck pace to give customers the “better, faster, cheaper” that they want.

Cisco’s Wi-Fi business is currently surviving off of 2 things: 1) “nobody ever got fired for buying Cisco”, and 2) “if you’ll buy lots of our over-priced switches and routers, we’ll throw in the Wi-Fi for free.” In my humble opinion, that’s a death spiral that will require yet another acquisition or a pretty radical change in Cisco’s typical M.O.

What made me think about this topic, and thus write about it, is a story related to me the other day by one of my butt-kickin’ partners. The partner shared a story about one of our competitors calling my company an “ankle biter” while trying to recruit our partner away from us. I had to laugh. What that competitor knows, but didn’t want to tell our partner, is that it hurts like hell when my company bites you on the ankle…and we’ve graduated up to back sides now as well.

This competitor understands that the only way that they can effectively compete against us in the market is to “play Cisco to us as Cisco plays Cisco to them.” They use the, “we’re a big public company, and they’ll be out of business by next week” card. You normally only pull that card out of your bag of tricks when things get desperate, but most of the large Wi-Fi infrastructure companies seem to now lead with it due to not being able to compete effectively in the technical arena.

The competitor who called us an ankle biter understands how our 1,000+ customers rave about our solution, that we now has several 3-5k AP installs under our belt (with much larger ones in the pipeline), and how our technology is revolutionizing how Wi-Fi networks are designed. Spouting off about us being ankle biters says to me that they understand all-too-well that they have to defend their flank while trying to change their own technology to copy ours. I thought it was funny, so I thought I would share.

It’ll be interesting over the next 2-3 years to see if any new Wi-Fi infrastructure vendors enter the market and what happens to the existing companies (e.g. go out of biz, acquisition, go public, OEM themselves into oblivion, etc).

What do you think will happen?

Devin Akin is Chief Wi-Fi Architect at Aerohive. Devin has over 10 years in the wireless LAN market and over 15 years in information technology. Devin's background includes working as a network design engineer for EarthLink, AT&T/BellSouth, Foundry Networks, and Sentinel Technologies as well as working as an RF engineer in the US Army. He has authored and edited several books with Wiley-Sybex and McGraw-Hill and holds some of the industry's most esteemed certifications, including CWNE, MCNE, MCSE, CCNP, CCDP, CCSP, and INFOSEC. He is considered an authority on Wi-Fi.