Service Defined Networks: Decoupling Support and Hardware from Wi-Fi Manufacturers

I had the opportunity visit the Cambium Networks campus to be part of the Managed Service Provider kick-off. It was great to see friendly old faces and the new, old faces, that have made their way over to the company. The last time I was here, the place was buzzing as it was still very much in its infancy and trying to ramp up its brand in the industry.

Now, in November 2017, they have swept the WISPA awards, gained international recognition and delivered products to the market with a commons sense to it that is not seen very often any more.

What Makes Cambium Wi-Fi Different? 

One of the key things that I discussed with their product team before our live webcast, was about the licensing structure and some of the “why” behind the support and on-going maintenance offering they have. Along with providing hardware to the industry at a significantly lower cost and taking over the middle-market of the Wi-Fi industry (think, above UBNT and EnGenius, below Aruba and Cisco), they do some pretty unique stuff when it comes to licensing and management software.

If you don’t know, their licensing, management, support, and updates are included in the price of the access point. Yes, freely available.  You get some amazing features with cnMaestro, which we can discuss later, but more importantly is the “why” behind their free licensing and what makes it different. It turns out, it’s about overall customer satisfaction and gaining trust and repeat business. So, regardless of what they do with hardware, I want to draw attention to this program.

When cnMaestro and all of the freely available updates were first introduced, I thought it was awesome. I didn’t understand the reasoning behind it, nor did I ask. But check this out.

By including the updates, firmware revs, feature updates, and support with the hardware, it makes the product a better product for you. If they charge for support and updates to a product you own, and you choose not to purchase those support and update contracts, you’re only driving yourself to a bad customer experience. At the end of the day, if you own the hardware and you can’t update it to the latest version of firmware when something comes out, are you gonna get mad at purchasing for not approving the budget or at the manufacturer for not helping you get the most out of the product you already paid for? 

And what then? You have hardware that is limited by a licensing issue? How likely are you to purchase hardware from that company next if there is another option on the table? It sounds like a vicious cycle, but know that you are probably already caught in it.

Now I get it, somewhere, someone got the idea to make the customers beholden to the hardware manufacturer by requiring licensing fees to the software, but thankfully, that is coming apart. Of course I understand that in order to offer support and services and get new features and what not require a whirring machine of people that have to draw paychecks from somewhere. But that too seems to be changing. 

Support and services are being offloaded onto the industry and away from corporate resources. Ubiquiti helped usher in the “hey we just make the stuff” model and others have followed suit. Wireless engineers, designers, and network consultants are positioned to better help customers than ever before, their toolsets are continuously growing and the technical and maintenance support system is being spread wider across the globe. Look at the boom in the WLAN Pros Conference. There are amazing people in the industry that you can rely on to help you without having to purchase contracts from manufacturers. They’re skilled, knowledgeable, and can add value you can’t find in a support subscription.

Just like open and software defined networking has decoupled software and services from hardware, so goes the way of the industry. Maybe not everywhere, yet. But to see an example of what it could be, take a look at Cambium. 

You buy the hardware and they keep it being the best that it can be for you. At no additional cost.
They’re not the only ones. Cape’s doing it with sensors, Ubiquiti is doing it with a number of devices, and more are coming. 

It’s like this awesome trend in the auto industry.
When you buy certain cars, at least in parts of my area, you get lifetime oil changes and maintenance. Sure it could be a gimmick, but guess what, it keeps the car running wonderfully the whole time you have it. The cost is absorbed into the price of the vehicle and you know what comes out of it? A happy customer. A customer who enthusiastically spreads the word about your brand. They spend more time loving their car than complaining about it not working because they don’t maintain it.

Now, if you go buy a vehicle and that vehicle’s functionality is only as good as the service you give it, which A. Doesn’t happen as regularly as it should and B. you have to come out of pocket for, you’re not going to be as happy as the person who has zero worries. And you’re not gonna rave about your vehicle. You will never be heard saying what awesome service is provided by the manufacturer.

As a matter of fact as far as a brand advocate goes, you’ll probably be LESS likely to recommend that brand to someone who trusts you because you know how much work it takes to make sure it continues to do what it was supposed to do in the first place. High-end brand or not, you can’t continuously charge for customer satisfaction and loyalty and expect everyone to be peachy keen about it, especially in a world where those options are now opening up.

So now, 

Which car would you be more likely to buy? 
The one that has a great service department that you have to pay for or the one that has a great service department that you never have to pay for because it’s just “taken care of”?

That thought in mind, which AP would you be more likely to buy? 
The one that keeps you locked into a service contract that you need in order to keep the device functioning the way it’s supposed to, or the one that you know will be supported by the manufacturer?

Thankfully the observation of this was made by one of the team at Cambium when the products were coming together and it made it’s way into the pricing structure. 

Keeping customers happy isn’t just about building a great product. It’s about standing beside that product and ensuring that it will always be the best product it can be so that it can be used the way its supposed to as a testament to the manufacturer.


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