First off, for the non-Wi-Fi geek, “AP” refers to Wi-Fi access points, and not the Associated Press or accounts payable.
I think we are beginning to see a bit of an evolution from trial testing (for a limited time) of Wi-Fi access points to vendors actually giving free access points to Wi-Fi professionals.
In the past, and even now, you could request a trial AP from a vendor and they would ship you one or two AP models for you to test out at your location. Of course, this was for a limited time, lasting a week or two but rarely for over a month. During this time period, you would have to determine if this AP model would meet your business requirements and make a decision.
Most Wi-Fi professionals are really busy and sometimes, these trial APs simply got shipped back to the vendor without any (or limited) testing taking place. Or, sometimes you wished you had that “Vendor A” AP back at your site to try another test. Or, well, you can fill in the blank why this limited time period did not always give you all the information or time you needed to thoroughly evaluate the unit.
Fast forward to: Free APs! Vendors are now actually giving APs at no cost to Wi-Fi professionals for their use, after completing some basic requirements, from either listening to a webinar or answering questions from a rep on a phone call. But the bottom line is: this AP is yours for free! You can test it, compare it to other APs, do a temp install at a work site, use it for a night light, whatever.
I think vendors are really on to a good thing here. If you are like me, I want to try out and test out vendor equipment, but do not have the financial resources to buy them nor the time to request trial equipment.
Here is one compelling reason why giving a free AP to a Wi-Fi professional is a good thing. I recently did a Wi-Fi consulting job for a private school. The IT director of the school contacted three vendors for trial equipment. I asked this director if she had tried another vendor, who just happened to have sent me a free AP that I had requested. (I tested this AP and knew the vendor supported a strong education vertical) She had never heard of this vendor, and requested trial equipment as a fourth option. After analyzing all vendors, the IT director chose number four for the school contract (yep–the same vendor I had suggested she add to the list). The contract awarded was over five figures!
So, look at it this way: the fourth vendor gave me a free AP, which has a retail cost of around $600 (I’m sure the vendor base cost is less than that). And what was their gain? A five-figure contract, plus many years of ongoing support costs from this private school. Or in other words, this vendor can now purchase about thirty more APs to give away to other Wi-Fi professionals, to get them other contracts. Or, they can just take their money and go to the bank. 🙂
It just makes good business sense that vendors put their products in the hands of Wi-Fi professionals at no cost, to test out, check out, compare to other products, blog about results, refer to clients, etc.
Here is a sampling of vendors I have found that offer free APs to Wi-Fi professionals (plus vendors that don’t, per their website) and requirements to get them (no vendor preference here, so arranged in alphabetical order):
Vendor AP model (free) Requirements
Aerohive AP121 Register, have valid pending project
AirTight C-55 Request on web site, answer questions from rep.
Aruba no free APs offered on web site
Cisco no free APs offered on web site (see Meraki)
Enterasys no free APs offered on web site
Motorola no free APs offered on web site
Meru no free APs offered on web site
Meraki (Cisco) MR12 Watch webinar, valid company email
Ruckus no free APs offered on web site
Xirrus XR-520 Watch webinar, register to win AP
One last word here: Software Wi-Fi vendors—come on and step up to the plate and also offer some free, fully functioning software! Do the same thing hardware AP vendors are doing…..don’t just offer a 30-day trial version of your software with limited application use, but provide a real, live, functioning software load that will enable a Wi-Fi professional to truly learn how to use your software who may then refer this tool to other clients. You vendors can work out all the details about how this will take place in a practical sense. Some software tools are thousands of dollars in cost! So, software vendors—who will be first in offering a free software tool? Who knows what contract might be awarded you as well!