Campus networks are getting more complex due to increased client density, higher performance demands, new ultra-reliable applications, and changing industry requirements. This has led to accelerated WLAN development, including the introduction of Wi-Fi 7 and 6 GHz and innovations like open-source architectures and AI.
These advancements address current challenges and open new opportunities in campus applications and markets. Network topologies are also changing, with denser WLAN Access Points (APs) handling more users and shifting toward cloud-native, controller-free architectures for more straightforward, more resilient, and scalable networks.
ABI Research noted that while the enterprise campus will remain the largest market, the industrial, large public venue, and education sectors will see the highest growth rates between 2022 and 2030, at 23.9%, 14.3%, and 12.4%, respectively.
“Of all the markets that WLAN serves, the requirements of campus networks are the most complex and evolve the fastest. For this reason, satisfying the demands of modern campus networking is one of the strongest drivers of WLAN innovation today,” explains Andrew Spivey, senior analyst at ABI Research.
Yet WLAN alone cannot address all campus opportunities, and therefore solutions which integrate the strengths of 5G and IoT technologies with WLAN have the highest value propositions for campus networking, as they can enable ubiquitous, high-performance, high-reliability wireless connectivity for virtually all campus use cases.
There are four distinct groupings of WLAN vendors supplying campus. The first is the all-rounders addressing virtually all campus types, including Cisco, HPE Aruba Networking, and CommScope RUCKUS Networks.
The second is the vertically focused, which optimises for certain industries, such as Arista and Extreme Networks. The third is the technology specialists, which differentiate through applying unique or highly innovative technologies. Fortinet, which places advanced security at the core of its value proposition, fits this definition.
The final group is small and medium business (SMB) targeted vendors like NETGEAR and D-Link. Each strategy has its advantages and disadvantages. All-rounders enjoy the largest Total Addressable Market (TAM) but need more focus and targeted optimisations for specific sectors.
WLAN Innovations coming
The latest WLAN innovations will enable MSPs to finally provide the guaranteed SLAs for high predictability and reliability that modern campus environments require, and the introduction of OpEx-orientated Network-as-a-Service (NaaS) models will help expand access to these performance standards to a broader market.
According to Spivey, lean enterprises have been the fastest to adopt NaaS, as they rely on short-term financial planning and are keen to reduce CAPEX and cut IT budgets by shifting to an OPEX model.
“This includes those in the carpeted enterprise, retail, and hospitality verticals. In contrast, large public venues, healthcare facilities, and industrial manufacturing sites are proving resistant to handing campus networking management over to MSPs or WLAN vendors, as they wish to retain control over the network and, in many cases, are facing comparatively less pressure with talent sourcing and retention,” Spivey concludes.