Back in the day, vendors and service providers dealt mostly with enterprises. Small and medium-size businesses were troublesome because the cost per sale was higher. This market was also out of vendors' comfort zone: Enterprises have folks on staff who know precisely what the organization needs and talk the same language as vendor sales staff. This isn't true of SMBs.
Times have changed, however. Big companies have essentially chosen their sides on most major technology issues. The focal point of competition has moved down the chain. SMBs clearly are the most attractive target, whether vendors like it or not.
This week, ABI Research released a report that says that there are almost 1 million SMBs that are good potential customers for 802.11n wireless gear. The report makes the keen assertion that smaller organizations tend to buy smaller numbers of devices. Who knew? It does add two real insights, however: SMBs trade in equipment more often, and the retail, real estate, warehousing and transportation verticals are particularly promising.
This assessment by Forrester analyst Chris Silva corroborates many of the trends mentioned by ABI. He notes that the firm's research says that while 10 percent of enterprises have rolled out 80.211n, 15 percent of SMBs -- which the firms defines as companies with 1,000 or fewer employees -- did so. Thirty percent of a slice of still smaller companies -- those with fewer than 100 workers -- use 802.11n. Silva surmises that the smaller the company, the more likely it is to rely on Wi-Fi for its primary network connectivity. He adds that enterprise-level gear is "a bit of overkill" for companies with 100 or fewer employees. This certainly is another reason that vendors accustomed to dealing with enterprises don't like SMBs.
Vendors long have gotten the message about the promise of the SMB Wi-Fi market. For instance, D-Link this week announced the AirPremier N Dual Band Access Point. The device -- technically the DAP-2590 -- offers multiple operations mode, what the firm calls flexible management and the ability to be driven by 802.3af power-over-Ethernet (PoE). The PoE capabilities are particularly attractive to SMBs because it reduces powering concerns associated with deployment and redeployments.
Last month U4EA Technologies -- say the company name slowly -- introduced the Fusion 300 WLAN controller and Fusion 50 802.11b/g access points. The story says the duo are designed for SMBs with lower levels of expertise. They feature fast roaming for VoIP, rouge AP detection and mitigation, and simple Web-based user interfaces and wizards. The company is targeting 500-employee-or-fewer companies likely to have six to nine APs and about 80 users. The company may release 802.11n versions later, but opted for the older standards as a way to keep costs down, the piece says.
Small companies are likely to combine as many functions on one platform as are enterprises. Cisco's Linksys unit -- which caters to small business and consumers -- last week released the Wireless-G PTZ Internet Camera with Audio. The device, formerly called the WVC210, uses 802.11G wireless to keep an eye on things. The system, which also stores the video, includes two-way audio, an embedded microphone and other features, the story says.
Collectively, small businesses account for a far greater portion of the economy than enterprises. Reaching these businesses, however, is not easy. The sales channel is tricky and vendors may spend as much time educating as selling. But, increasingly, this is where the action is.