The Sky is Not Falling For Ekahau

Ekahau Hat (photo courtesy of Sam Clements)

You may have noticed quite a few high profile departures from Ekahau recently. A lot of very visible community members, concluding Joel Crane (@PotatoFi), Jerry Olla (@JOlla), and Jussi Kiviniemi (@JussiKiviniemi) have all decided to move on. This has generated quite a bit of discussion among the members of the wireless community as to what this really means for the company and the product that is so beloved by so many wireless engineers and architects.

Putting the people aside for a moment, I want to talk about the Ekahau product line specifically. There was an undercurrent of worry in the community about what would happen to Ekahau Site Survey (ESS) and other tools in the absence of the people we’ve seen working on them for so long. I think this tweet from Drew Lentz (@WirelessNerd) best exemplifies that perspective:

So, naturally, I decided to poke back:

That last tweet is where I really want to focus this post.

The More Things Change

Let’s think about where Ekahau is with regards to the wireless site survey market right now. With no exaggeration, they are on top and clearly head and shoulders above the rest. What other product out there has the marketshare and mindshare they enjoy? AirMagnet is the former king of the hill but the future for that tool is still in flux with all of the recent movement of the tool between Netscout and now with NetAlly. IBWave is coming up fast but they’re still not quite ready to go head-to-head in the same large enterprise space. I rarely hear TamoGraph Site Survey brought up in conversation. And as for NetSpot, they don’t check enough boxes for real site survey to even really be a strong contender In the enterprise.

So, Ekahau really is the 800lb gorilla of the site survey market. This market is theirs to lose. They have a commanding lead. And speaking to the above tweets from Drew, are they really in danger of losing their customer base after just 12 months? Honestly? I don’t think so. Ekahau has a top-notch offering that works just great today. If there was zero development done on the platform for the next two years it would still be one of the best enterprise site survey tools on the market. How long did AirMagnet flounder under Fluke and still retain the title of “the best” back in the early 2010s?

Here Comes A Challenger

So, if the only really competitor that’s up-and-coming to Ekahau right now is IBWave, does that mean this is a market ripe for disruption? I don’t think that’s the case either. When you look at all the offerings out there, no one is really rushing to build a bigger, better survey tool. You tend to see this in markets where someone has a clear advantage. Without a gap to exploit there is no room for growth. NetSpot gives their tool away so you can’t really win on price. IBWave and AirMagnet are fighting near the top so you don’t have a way to break in beside them.

What features could you offer that aren’t present in ESS today? You’d have to spend 18-24 months to even build something comparable to what is present in the software today. So, you dedicate resources to build something that is going to be the tool that people wanted to use two years ago? Good luck selling that idea to a VC firm. Investors want return on their money today.

And if you’re a vendor that’s trying to break into the market, why even consider it? Companies focused on building APs and wireless control solutions don’t always play nice with each other. If you’re going to build a tool to help survey your own deployments you’re going to be unconsciously biased against others and give yourself some breaks. You might even bias your survey results in favor of your own products. I’m not saying it would be intentional. But it has been known to happen in the past.

Here’s the other thing to keep in mind: inertia. Remember how we posed this question with the idea that Ekahau wouldn’t improve the product at all? We all know that’s not the case. Sure, there are some pretty big names on that list that aren’t there any more. But those people aren’t all the people at Ekahau. Development teams continue to work on the product roadmap. There are still plans in place to look at new technologies. Nothing stopped because someone left. Even if the only thing the people on the development side of the house did was finish the plans in place there would still be another 12-18 months of new features on the horizon. That means trying to develop a competitor to ESS means developing technology to replace what is going to be outdated by the time you finish!

People Matter

That brings me back to the people. It’s a sad fact that everyone leaves a company sooner or later. Bill Gates left Microsoft. Steve Jobs left Apple. You can’t count on people being around forever. You have to plan for their departure and hope that, even if you did catch lightning in a bottle, you have to find a way to do it again.

I’m proud to see some of the people that Ekahau has picked up in the last few months. Folks like Shamree Howard (@Shamree_Howard) and Stew Goumans (@WirelessStew) are going to go a long way to keeping the community engagement alive that Ekahau is so known for. There will be others that are brought in to fill the shoes of those that have left. And don’t forget that for every face we see publicly in the community there is an army of development people behind the scenes working diligently on the tools. They may not be the people that we always associate with the brand but they will try hard to put their own stamp on things. Just remember that we have to be patient and let them grow into their role. They have a lot to live up to, so give them the chance. It may take more than 12 months for them to really understand what they got themselves into.

Tom’s Take

No company goes out of business overnight without massive problems under the hood. Even the biggest corporate failures of the last 40 years took a long time to unfold. I don’t see that happening to Ekahau. Their tools are the best. Their reputation is sterling. And they have a bit of a cushion of goodwill to get the next release right. And there will be a next release. And one after that. Because what Ekahau is doing isn’t so much scaling the mountain they climbed to unseat AirMagnet. It’s proving they can keep going no matter what.

2 thoughts on “The Sky is Not Falling For Ekahau

  1. Love ya Tom, but your analysis is off on a few points. iBwave is definitely “enterprise-ready” and Ekahau is not “head-and-shoulders above” the rest. iBwave has a mature product that actually beats Ekahau in many features. For example one is survey calibration that can be used in predictive design (taking measured data to analyze the RF propagation, then building a new design from it, which is critical for existing wireless networks being replaced and requiring a completely new design or for AP on a Stick designs whether full or partial locations are surveyed).

    Second, the market gap to exploit is the need to design and deploy multiple wireless technologies for indoor spaces. No longer are the days when private enterprises only design and build Wi-Fi centric networks. More and more they are looking at sensor networks for IoT using Zigbee, Zwave, etc. In addition, we will see in the next 12-18 months the tangible emergence of private LTE and then 5G using the CBRS band in the U.S. and additional bands in the future (e.g. 6 GHz). Being able to design for all of these technologies consistently and efficiently in one tool will be an increasingly desirable capability and a differentiation point. And iBwave is well ahead of Ekahau in this regard, already offering capabilities for Zigbee and CBRS.

    Third, iBwave has a host of features that Ekahau doesn’t regarding network component database, creating network interconnection diagrams, and creating bill of materials. It truly is a more comprehensive solution for projects.

    Now, I’m touting iBwave quite heavily just because it highlights some of the analysis pieces that I feel you’ve missed. Ekahau is quite capable at Wi-Fi design and surveying and they have a wonderful product. But the time is fast approaching (possibly already here for first movers) where Wi-Fi professionals cannot live in a vacuum any longer and have to realize there are other technologies, a broader wireless market and ecosystem, and will need to adapt or lose relevance for many customers and projects. I’m already working on a project as I type this for a private organization where I need to design a network for both Wi-Fi and Zigbee. It’s here.

    So, while I agree with the main thrust of your argument, that the sky isn’t falling for Ekahau… I would only agree in the historically narrow perspective of a Wi-Fi centric tool. But since I believe those days are numbered, I’d argue that you start from a false assumption and your entire argument thereafter suffers.

    Is Ekahau going to fall apart because of the recent departures? No.
    Is Ekahau product development, especially driven by customer feedback loop, going to suffer? That’s more questionable and could definitely lead to a trickle of customer dissatisfaction that leads to departure to competitors. The need for professionals to design and deploy multiple wireless technologies will only place even greater importance on product development to keep up.

    Is the sky falling? No.
    But the Ekahau boat seems to have a few leaks that they need to patch or risk falling further behind their competitors, which will be hard to catch up to.

    Andrew von Nagy

  2. Good points. The sky wasn’t falling for Atari either, and then /it did./ How things happen over the coming months may shift decisions, and product interests for some. For now it’s just speculation and assumption. When the post “We’re listening now – more than ever before!” came, I thought that seemed a bit off the mark given the high level of engagement we’ve always known Ekahau for. Also, very much a little league attempt at diversion.

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