With a Wi-Fi cloud service, Ruckus aims to help hotspot owners make money

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The latest entrant into cloud-based Wi-Fi plans to apply the technique to public Wi-Fi hotspots, helping enterprises and service providers to better manage and monetize their networks.

Ruckus Wireless, best known for making access points for service providers and public venues, will host hotspot management software in the cloud with its SAMS (Smart Wi-Fi Access Management Service), launching this week. Ruckus will start by hosting its own SAMS cloud and then sell the technology to service providers for their own branded offerings.

Consumers’ growing expectation of reliable Wi-Fi access, along with enterprises’ tight IT budgets, are driving up demand for cloud-managed wireless LANs, according to IDC. The global market for these offerings more than doubled in 2013, to $334 million in revenue, and it will grow by more than 50 percent this year, IDC estimated.

Putting Wi-Fi smarts in the cloud can eliminate the need for on-premises hardware controllers and authentication servers and let the network owners concentrate management tasks at sites where they have the staff to carry them out. Aerohive Networks, Cisco’s Meraki division and even Hewlett-Packard have gone down this path.

Ruckus is aiming that concept at hotspots, providing a dashboard customers can use to fine-tune network settings for multiple sites and to monetize their networks. SAMS is designed for malls, stadiums and airports as well as smaller venues such as coffee shops.

The service could be attractive to small enterprises that want cloud-based Wi-Fi networks but have little or no IT expertise, Ovum analyst Daryl Schoolar said.

Still, there’s no clear trend of all Wi-Fi management going to the cloud, and there are still many different architectures available, he said.

“Some people want to control everything, some people want to outsource,” Schoolar said. “I think the real trend is just flexibility.”

SAMS will include a variety of Web-based tools for defining a visitor’s experience in a hotspot and for collecting information about users and patterns of use, according to Ruckus. Venue operators can set up paid or unpaid access to their networks and make ads or on-site promotions appear on users’ screens, said David Stiff, Ruckus’s director of product management.

Enterprises will be able to create a precise timeline for what a visitor will see as they use the hotspot. To do this, they can just upload and arrange elements such as splash pages, login screens, payment screens, and ads, Stiff said. Visitors might be asked to give an email address, log in with a Facebook or Twitter ID, supply information such as their age and gender, or do nothing. The enterprise will be able to set how long users can stay on the network, the maximum speed they can get, and other aspects of their use.

SAMS will cost $265.50 per access point, per year, for periods of one, three, or five years. For customers who choose to use local management through an on-site Ruckus ZoneDirector controller, the service will cost $180 per access point, per year. Initially, Ruckus will run SAMS and its channel partners will sell it. To initiate the service, they can simply set the parameters for their networks, buy the hardware if they don’t already own it, and have the hardware installed.

In the next few months, Ruckus plans to offer a virtualized version of SAMS that traditional carriers and other service providers can use as the basis of their own cloud-based offering, said David Callisch, Ruckus’s vice president of marketing. Potential customers include Wi-Fi equipment resellers that want to add a managed services business.

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