Cisco beefs up SMB wireless portfolio

The highlight of the multiple product announcement is the upgrading of the Cisco Mobility Express management software, to deliver true enterprise functionality at a small business price point.

Kent MacDonald, ‎Vice President Business Development at Long View Systems

Cisco has strengthened the low end of its wireless portfolio with multiple new announcements. First they have updated and improved the Cisco Mobility Express management software. Second, they have released new 802.11ac Wave 2 wireless access points APs, for both indoor and outdoor environments. Finally, they have strengthened themselves in the high end of the SMB and the midmarket with the Cisco 3504 Wireless LAN Controller.

“These announcements impact our mobility and Wi-Fi solutions for SMB and midmarket customers, with between 10 and 1000 users,” said Prasanth Shenoy,  Cisco’s Vice President of Product Marketing for Enterprise Networking and Mobility. “Wi-Fi is now the primary way for mobile access, so there is a lot of pressure on IT to deliver seamless experience, especially in SMBs where they don’t have a lot of IT staff to get things up and running.”

Shenoy emphasized that SMBs want three things in their mobile solution.

“They want it fast and simple, so that it should be as easy as setting up a home Wi-Fi,” he said. “They  don’t want to break the bank, so it has to deliver the right features at the right price point. In addition, the functionality can’t be less just because they are SMBs. They want enterprise class functionality.”

Cisco Mobility Express was initially introduced a year ago, but has now been significantly upgraded.

“It can take care of those three key requirements,” Shenoy said. “It’s very simple. They can get it up and running in under ten minutes. It offers enterprise class functionality at the price point of the SMB, supporting Cisco WLAN controller features with no price premium, and offering the best performance Wi-Fi, using 802.11ac Wave 2 technology.”

The new enterprise class functionality permits support of up to 100 Access Points. It also now facilitates full application visibility and control.

“Visibility is a very important factor for customers, and the same prioritization here from higher end solutions has been brought down to SMBs,” Shenoy stated.

For Apple users. Cisco collaboration with Apple has now enabled the ability to turn on roaming for iPhone and iPad on Cisco Mobility Express, as well as the ability to enable a “Fast Lane” that allows IT to prioritize the apps that are most important for their business.

“Cisco’s Apple partnership has provided the best Wi-Fi roaming for Apple devices, and we have now brought this capability to Mobility Express,” Shenoy said.

CMX [Connected Mobile Experience] has also been packaged into Mobility Express to improve the mobile experience, facilitating things like easy guest onboarding, delivering personalized content, and analyzing visitor behavior through presence analytics.

“As many of the customers are in hospitality and education, they want easy onboarding for guest Wi-Fi, and SaaS based CMX connect now provides this for Mobility Express,” Shenoy noted. A free year of CMX cloud also comes with the purchase.

Cisco also expanded its Access Point portfolio for both indoor and outdoor use. The Cisco Aironet 1815 Series Access Point is for indoors, while the Aironet 1540 Series is the outdoor solution.

The 1815 Access Point series consists of four devices. The 1815i is the most basic version, providing enterprise-class connectivity for a small business price point. The 1815t is designed for teleworkers and micro-branch deployments. The 1815w is a wall-mountable device, while the 1815m covers larger areas.

The 1540 Series APs have similar functionality, but are ruggedized to be able to work outdoors, and are targeted at environments like truck stops, outdoor shopping malls and higher education.

The other new product is the Cisco 3504 Wireless LAN Controller. It has more of a mid-market air than the other components of the announcement, being able to support up to 150 APs and up to 3000 clients.

Jason Gallo, Global Director, Partner Sales Business Development at Cisco, confirmed that these new small business offerings are eligible for the expanded Account Breakaway promotion Cisco announced earlier in the day.

“This is a real opportunity for additional profitability,” he said. “It’s a great ability to register an opportunity and get price protection for this type of deal.”

Kent MacDonald, ‎Vice President Business Development at Calgary-headquartered VAR Long View Systems, said he was very excited about the new offerings.

“This really aligns to the size of our Canadian market, which is 200-1000 users, and where we struggled to find the functionality before,” he said. “We were losing more than we were using in the space, because we didn’t have a price competitive scenario. We had some customers who would pay the price premium – but not many.”

While Cisco tried and failed before in this space with the Linksys acquisition, MacDonald said that was a completely different scenario.

“It’s 180 degrees different,” he stressed. “That was taking a consumer product and trying to sell it into commercial market, and that wasn’t palatable to most customers. Being able to offer Big Boy stuff for a Little Boy price is a much different kind of sale. It will be disconcerting to  Cisco’s competitors to have this functionality at this price point.”

Gallo said that these offerings should be significant even to the kind of Tier One Cisco partners found at the Partner Connection event where the announcement took place.

“It’s an opportunity for most of our partners, because that’s where the growth is,” he said. “Partners have been asking us ‘how do we expand.’ We have to equip them with solutions with the right price point and functionality for the market, but if we pull it together as an offer, it will succeed. This is a pure white space. The large Tier Ones still have opportunities that are midmarket and below, and now we are now giving them the right opportunity to go after.”