In-Store Wi-Fi

Why retailers embrace cloud for Wi-Fi access, PCI and wireless security

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Retailers are increasingly looking to deploy Wi-Fi in their stores. They want to provide guest Wi-Fi to their patrons and also want to deploy in-store applications such as wireless POS and printers, wireless kiosks, wireless digital signage, and HQ network access over Wi-Fi. Coupled with these business drivers there is also a wireless PCI compliance requirement to protect credit card transactions. Retailers however face some unique challenges which were hitherto not met by traditional autonomous or controller Wi-Fi solutions. Now cloud managed Wi-Fi has made it quite feasible for them to achieve these goals.

Common challenges retailers face:
Retail networks differ from campus deployments in many aspects as follows:
1. Distributed nature: Since stores are distributed across regions, states and countries, the network is highly distributed.
2. Scale: Medium to large retailers may have 100’s and 1000’s of stores.
3. No onsite IT staff: Remote manageability and troubleshooting run high in priority for network architecture.
4. PCI monitoring: Networks at retail outlets carry credit card transactions. As a result, they need to satisfy PCI compliance requirements. Wireless security monitoring and rogue detection are explicit requirements in the PCI standard. Manual PCI processes are impractical due to scale and distributed nature of networks.
5. Network diversity: There can be diverse network characteristics at different locations with backhauls as diverse as satellite links to T1 lines. In store-equipment can also vary. The franchising structure of retailers all adds to network diversity.
6. Cost sensitivity: Large scale deployment also plays majorly into the cost factor. In addition, fundamental business model for many retailers exposes them to narrow margins, resulting into cost sensitivity in IT equipment purchase.

Cloud managed Wi-Fi to rescue:
Clearly, traditional heavyweight controller Wi-Fi solutions, which were designed with campus deployments in mind, fall short of addressing these challenges. However, with the advent of cloud managed Wi-Fi, retailers now have new network architecture option. Talking specifically of cloud managed Wi-Fi that AirTight Networks offers, it makes distributed Wi-Fi deployment and PCI monitoring completely burden-free for retailers. Plug and play CPE devices (access points) are so easy to deploy that even store managers can plug them in the stores, which can then be managed from central console in the cloud. Location based hierarchical console is perfect for organizing network management among brands, franchisees, and regions. It supports guest access and corporate Wi-Fi applications in a single device and in that same device also bundles automated PCI compliance scanning, along with 24×7 best of the breed intrusion protection against rogue access points and other wireless threats. There are no controllers or servers to be managed or deployed on-site. There are no software upgrade cycles to manage onsite. Moreover, retailers derive all economic advantages of cloud.

Not surprising that retailers are embracing cloud for Wi-Fi access and wireless security at stores. It is indeed a perfect fit to address their unique challenges in cost-effective and burden-free manner.

Hemant Chaskar

Hemant Chaskar is Vice President for Technology and Innovation at AirTight. He oversees R&D, product strategy, and intellectual property.Hemant has more than 15 years of experience in the networking, wireless, and security industry and holds several patents in these areas.

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