Is OpenWiFi Ready for Primetime?

“Nobody gets fired for buying IBM”  is a phrase anyone working in technology has encountered for the last twenty years. The same could be said about Cisco or HP-Aruba in the enterprise WLAN space. Yet Wi-Fi technology has evolved rapidly in the last two decades, spanning various generations of architectures and standards. The hardware disaggregation movement in the data center has now reached the network's edge with TIP OpenWiFi.

Using an analogy, we asked industry leaders we interviewed what sort of car Open WiFi would be equivalent to. Some answered Hyundai/Kia, others Tesla. Hyundai symbolizes a cost-effective car with few bells and whistles (or at least in its modest beginnings) that takes you from point A to point B. To others, OpenWiFi is equivalent to Tesla because it disrupts the traditional car industry and supports a whole movement of open software for its charging stations.

In our opinion, OpenWiFi is a decent car whose performance and value will improve as deployments generate the volumes required for continued R&D. Only commercial success will ensure the survival and eventual prosperity of its ecosystem of developers and hardware vendors. We do not think economics alone is the primary driver for adopting OpenWiFi. For many customers, OpenWiFi allows them to innovate and control their destiny in a volatile and uncertain Wi-Fi supply chain. Combining these two drivers—better economics and more user value—is necessary for a disruption to succeed.

OpenWiFi is only three years old, with two years spent on R&D. It is slowly making inroads into several markets, including multi-family, hospitality, and other sectors. Further, the introduction of OpenLAN switching will positively impact future deployments.

We see massive potential opportunities in price-sensitive markets such as India and among US and European MSPs eager to diversify their suppliers. To produce our market estimates, we listened and challenged the claims of everyone interviewed to separate wishful thinking from reality.

It was tempting to compare the sorry state of Open RAN and reach conclusions about what will occur with OpenWiFi. While there are similarities between the two initiatives, there are also considerable differences in the task's complexity and the market’s needs. Macro cellular requirements do not change between countries and markets; Wi-Fi requirements do. OpenWiFi can find its place in market segments that are still dominated by a few large and traditional WLAN vendors.

However, OpenWiFi must overcome significant risks and uncertainties to fulfill its destiny. The first and most significant risk is that deployments are too slow to materialize, which puts the entire ecosystem of suppliers at risk. The second risk is an offensive by well-funded (with exceptions) incumbent WLAN suppliers. By investing considerable R&D in improving their offering with superior AI engines, better performance, and more flexibility to customer-specific needs, OpenWiFi adoption is made much harder to justify for CIOs and CTOs. Another risk is that few OpenWiFi vendors have become the de-facto duopolies, thus limiting innovation and discouraging smaller players from entering the ecosystem.

As OpenWiFi becomes more mature and accepted, perhaps CIOs and CTOs will see it as a safe choice, and thus… “Nobody will get fired for buying OpenWiFi ”. 

The  TIP Open WiFi : A Reality Check and Forecasts 2024-2029 is report is based on numerous interviews with industry leaders and companies deploying OpenWiFi. It includes a detailed view of the latest OpenLAN switching offering, the state of the current deployments in each segment, a risk assessment, and various forecast scenarios for OpenWiFi access point markets for 2024-2029.

A client briefing will be held on May 21, 2024 at 11 am EDT USA. Register Now.

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