RealTime IT News

WLAN Professionals Wanted

Free stuff? Did somebody say free stuff?

The somewhat misleadingly named Institute for WLAN Professionals (iWLANpro) may not be exactly what it appears, but you can't argue with the "tuition fees" -- membership is free to any so-called WLAN professionals. Although it only announced itself a few weeks ago at the Networld + Interop show in Atlanta and hasn't really done much yet, iWLANpro already boasts 30,000 professionals as members. Hmmm.

iWLANpro is an off-shoot of the Orem, UT-based Institute for Network Professionals (INP), a 17-year-old business that provides some training and certification services but has evolved over the years into a marketing company. It's now dedicated mainly to helping network equipment and software vendors get their marketing and technical information and tools into the hands of network professionals in customer and prospect companies, consulting firms, VARs and integrators.

"When we were looking around earlier this year to see where we might go in the future, we saw that wireless was clearly the next big thing," says iWLANpro executive director Keith Parsons. "So we came up with the idea for the Institute of WLAN Professionals."

"WECA, which has now become the Wi-Fi Alliance, takes care of vendors," Parsons points out. "There's the Wireless LAN Association but it's also mostly vendor based and it's being absorbed into WECA. Nobody represented the people themselves who do the work."

Let's be clear about this, though. Despite the company names, the marketing rhetoric and the fact that both INP and iWLANpro bagged .org domain names (as well as the identical .com domains), they aren't non-profit professional associations. They're businesses.

Not that there's anything wrong with that.

INP's primary offering is an annually-produced DVD filled with network vendors' demo software, updated drivers, service packs, patches, white papers and marketing materials, plus educational materials from various public- and private-domain sources. INP charges vendor affiliate members to include their material on the disc, and sends it free to professional members.

"We have a lot of statistics from [INP] on how members use these technical resources and how they carry them with them everywhere," Parsons says. "Sometimes two years later they're still carrying the same disc in their toolkit."

Understanding why some professional members in the original organization apparently value the DVD so highly is key to understanding iWLANpro's business model -- and its potential value in the WLAN community. The appeal is the "hard-core stuff" the DVDs include, especially the software and technical white papers.

The fact is, much -- if not most -- of this material is available to download on the Web at vendors' sites. However, it's more convenient to have it all on one disc, Parsons says. For one thing, some of the files -- Windows Service Packs, for example, which are included -- can be huge and take an inordinate amount of time to download.

Parsons admits professional members pay for the convenience of the DVD by being subjected to the marketing materials on the disc and occasional mailings and e-mails from INP and vendors.

iWLANpro is built on an evolved INP model. iWLANpro will not, at least initially, offer training or certification. It will simply function as a go-between, linking vendors and professionals. The first annual DVD release is due out in January 2003. So far the company has 11 vendor affiliate members, ten of which are committed to providing material for the disc.

"But we've just barely started," Parsons says. "We only sent out the first requests for affiliates a week ago."

The company expects to have 40 affiliate members by the end of 2002, and 100 by the end of 2003. Each pays an annual fee of $1,000. For that they get a more detailed listing in iWLANpro's directory, which aims to list "all" WLAN vendors, regardless of whether they're members. It includes 900 companies so far.

"We're trying to be conservative in our estimates of how many we'll sign up," Parsons says.

Affiliate members pay extra to place material on the DVD and to rent all or parts of the "opt-in" iWLANpro mailing list -- about $150 per 1,000 names.

iWLANpro will eventually also let vendor members send out surveys to segments of the professional members list. It will never survey the whole list, Parsons hastens to point out. That would be too intrusive and members would be turned off, he believes.

But if a vendor wanted to ask a few questions of a representative sample of, say, professionals in companies with 200 or more access points and 10,000 or more employees, iWLANpro could identify candidates using the demographic information it collects when members sign up, then offer a very quick turn-around with an e-mail-based survey of qualified respondents.

In fact, one of the benefits iWLANpro claims to offer professional members is the opportunity to influence vendor behavior. Participating in surveys, he implies, is one way they can do that.

Professional members pay nothing. The main benefit is the DVD, but they will also receive an annual mailing filled with "stuff" from vendors, plus a monthly online newsletter.

Parsons doesn't want to make too much of the newsletter. He wants to avoid the appearance of iWLANpro competing with other publishers in the WLAN field -- with which he hopes to swap mailing lists in the future. The newsletter will probably only include one "article" a month.

The DVD is clearly the main member benefit. "The DVD will come out at least once a year," Parsons says. "But if the industry changes enough, we might roll one out every six months. It will be triggered by when vendors have enough new stuff."

The first iWLANpro disc will feature the same types of materials as the INP DVDs -- some of it will be the exact same material, in fact -- but with more of a wireless slant. Parsons claims the disc will hold more than 7,500 pages of technical documents from WLAN vendors.

It will include excerpts from selected WLAN books from publishers Sybex and O'Reilly & Associates, plus a more comprehensive list of WLAN titles with synopses of each. Users will be able to order books online by clicking a button while viewing the information on the DVD.

The iWLANpro DVD will also include the complete text of The CWNA Study Guide from Planet3 Wireless, a primary resource for preparing to pass Planet3's Certified Wireless Network Administrator (CWNA) certification exam. This work sells for $30 at Amazon.

Other features: summaries of relevant Gartner research reports with a mechanism to order complete reports online from the DVD, public domain educational materials such as the OSI network model graphic and relevant Internet Engineering Task Force Requests for Comment (RFCs).

The success of the DVD clearly hinges on the number of vendor affiliates that participate. And that will depend on the number of qualified professional members on the list.

Parsons admits the current list, built mainly by swapping names with affiliate members and other publishers, includes many who are just attracted by free stuff and may not actually be real WLAN professionals. iWLANpro will qualify members by getting them to fill out questionnaires, he says.

He hopes to have 50,000 fully qualified members by the end of the year, and be pushing 100,000 by the end of 2003.

Is iWLANpro a reputable professional association with the kinds of benefits professional associations provide? Definitely not. Is it worth joining? Sure. Why not? They give you free stuff.

802.11 Planet Conference Ready to become a WLAN professional? Join us at the 802.11 Planet Conference & Expo, Dec. 3-5 in Santa Clara, CA. One of our workshops will cover Crash Preparation Course for Certified Wireless LAN Professional Certification.