On-premises or Cloud Managed WiFi – Which One Is Right for Your Business?

At some point, every business will be faced with installing a new wireless network or upgrading an existing one. One of the key questions regarding these projects is whether to use on-premises or cloud managed WiFi. The answer will depend on the type of business, current network design and wireless requirements.

To determine the best option for your business, you first need to understand the major differences between these two wireless network architectures:

What is On-premises WiFi?

When wireless networks were first deployed, businesses created “hotspots” where users could access a wireless signal. These hotspots could be in a lobby, conference room, cafeteria or any area with few wired ports.

The wireless access points (APs) installed were configured and managed independently of one another, which was not a big deal if the wireless access requirements within the business were minimal.

But as wireless demand grew and businesses needed to provide wireless access throughout their locations, it was not feasible for network administrators to manage so many APs. Plus, APs spread throughout a location could not communicate with each other. The resulting technical issues led to the development of wireless LAN controllers.

The hardware-based controller centralizes WLAN intelligence. It oversees network APs and provides insight into the WLAN. Network administrators can modify wireless channels, signal strength and AP assignments. In addition, control-plane and data-plane traffic is routed back to the wireless controller before being placed on the local data LAN.

What is Cloud Managed WiFi?

In a cloud-managed WiFi model, APs connect to a virtual controller. WLAN services, like AP management, take place between the virtual controller and local APs over an Internet connection.

Comparison of On-premises WiFi and Cloud Managed WiFi

The following table outlines some of the major differences between on-premises WiFi and cloud-managed WiFi:

  On-premises WiFi Cloud-Managed WiFi
Premise Equipment Requires APs on-site, along with controller hardware and possibly a manager appliance to oversee controllers. Requires APs on-site, however the architecture is controller-less. Management is done in the cloud.
Centralized Management Deploying a controller at each site isn’t practical in distributed networks, such as branch offices. Centralized monitoring is also difficult. Because they are controller-less, cloud-managed WiFi solutions are well-suited to geographically-dispersed businesses. They also perform management functions in the cloud. Businesses have a single point of management regardless of where IT staff is physically located.
Cost Controller-based, on-premises WiFi require upfront capital expenses. Cloud-managed WiFi solutions offers flexible pricing. Many providers offer affordable, monthly subscription pricing models.
Scalability Network expansion requires planning and additional equipment and license purchases. Cloud-managed WiFi networks can keep pace with business growth. Businesses also avoid the inefficiencies associated with unused capacity.
Installation and Management Given the on-premises equipment requirements, installation and management can be more complex. Cloud-managed WiFi simplifies installation. In many cases, APs are preconfigured before being shipped to a remote site.
Upgrades Older controllers must be manually upgraded to handle advanced capabilities. In cloud-managed WiFi solutions, the provider can deliver upgrades to businesses through the cloud.


Deciding which business WiFi solution is right for you depends on your business requirements and the technology investments you’ve already made. Before you deploy a wireless network, you will need to evaluate the factors listed above in terms of their impact to your business.

To arrange a complimentary, no-obligation consultation or a demo, please contact us, or call 1-866-984-3001 today.

Bob is the Product Manager responsible for Hosted PBX at FairPoint Communications, a leading provider of advanced communications technology in northern New England and 14 other states across the U.S.