When I sat down with Ian Whiting at Big Dogs Seoul 2018 he had only been Ruckus Networks president for about two weeks.
Not to say he played no part in the company’s recent growth - as CCO he was a voice of business acumen that helped guide the company through a significant amount of upheaval as it was passed from company to company, before settling in with ARRIS.
Whiting’s demeanour is relaxed and thoughtful as we talk through Ruckus’ presence in the A/NZ region, both as it is now and where it could be in the future.
Ruckus’ current success exists where you would expect them for a vendor of networking products designed with RF difficulties in mind, particularly in the high-end hospitality market but they also have an agreement with NZ's Ministry of Education.
However, Whiting gets right into talking about what he sees as the real potential for Ruckus - wifi as the fourth public utility.
“In Australia, NZ and all across Asia there is this desire that governments have to raise the level of digital learning and connectivity,” he explains to back up his point.
“It doesn't matter where you are in the world, there are underprivileged and underserved communities, and one of the biggest challenges for a government is to bring people out of that. It's about education and if you can create good public services, wifi being one of them, it helps with digital learning and public education services.”
It would be easy to write this off as a cynical grab at government money, but sitting in front of Whiting it is clear that this is something that he is passionate about - in fact it crops up repeatedly.
“In less privileged neighbourhoods there are kids who go to school and have tablets or laptops in the classroom,” he states unprompted halfway through our discussion.
“Then they get home and don't have good internet services because their family can't afford an internet plan. So, kids go home from school, play and eat, and go back to school in the evening to hang out in the car park where they can get a wifi signal. Kids are sitting around in playgrounds or outside their locked classroom doing their homework. That's just wrong.”
Considering Whiting’s penchant for British understatement, him calling something ‘just wrong’ comes across as a bold assertion.
However, he is still a businessperson and so is able to back up his talk with the financial incentives for installing public wifi.
“It’s a public service that impacts tourism,” he says of the more immediate benefits that governments can see.
“Recently, we went to visit the Gold Coast and they had just staged the commonwealth games. The mayor had gone on record saying 'we will have the best public wifi in the world for the Commonwealth Games', which is a bit of a bold statement.
“They came to us and we deployed a great public wifi network using lights poles and buildings to mount the access points. They had maybe a million people come in for the games. What was really cool was that when the Mayor was raving about the wifi on a national TV news channel he pointed to a lamp pole and there was a Ruckus access point up there, on camera. That was sort of a weird thing for us.”
There’s that British understatement.
“There is a business imperative - If you are a municipal government and you aren’t offering these services, your taxpayers won’t stay,” Whiting says highlighting another way that wifi deployment could feed back into a community.
“A local government in Greenfield, Massachusetts invested in network infrastructure and were able to demonstrate a retention of, and increase in population, which led to further benefits to the community.”
Being an almost 100% channel company in a competitive market always looking for innovation and advancement, Whiting understands that pricing can be a challenge and thinks that MSP partners have a big role to play.
“As complexity goes up, you have to still make the cost go down. As much as we'd like to charge double or triple each time we bring out new products, customers expect all of that at the same or less cost every generation.
“This goes back to managed services - it’s a way to keep the costs going down. Organisations can work with companies that operate multiple networks at scale. Some part of the cost of deploying these networks is already sunk because the service provider has built the infrastructure and is leveraging it for many different types of customers.”
Whiting also discusses the range of ways that using Ruckus’ wireless networking, partners can add their own systems in order to generate even greater revenue.
“The idea of having an existing wifi network that you can take advantage of to suck all this interesting data literally out of the air, and then use analytics to do smart things with that data, it's kind of cool stuff,”
“We're still the plumbing piece, we know who we are and where we fit, but the fact that we have this ability to combine multiple different kinds of network - Zigbee, BLE, LORA etc, and wifi into the same physical infrastructure means you're simplifying that network rather than having to build multiple different types of network.
“The next big horizon is the IoT services partners can start to layer in on top of that. Flood control is one of the many IoT services taking advantage of wifi infrastructure. There are these flood monitoring sensors that people are putting out there to predict when there will be the next big flood, which could be annoying or catastrophic depending on how serious it is.”
Whiting’s perspective on the deployment of Ruckus’ solutions will undoubtedly have an effect on the direction the company will be taking as it aims to capitalise on the growth since its acquisition by ARRIS.
Perhaps New Zealand and Australian cities and towns will heed the call of the Ruckus president, follow the lead of governments around the world, and we will see the most deserving and in-need populations gaining access to high-speed, reliable wifi.
I think that would be quite nice.