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Interop 2007 Las Vegas: Top stories from the leading business technology event

Wireless vendors target enterprise nets with 802.11n products

Pre-standard offerings to debut from Colubris, Trapeze, others

By , Network World
May 21, 2007 12:04 AM ET

Network World - One of the big surprises at this week's Interop show will be the number of new enterprise wireless LAN products supporting the high-throughput IEEE standard in waiting

A pack of vendors have announced new access points with chipsets that support draft 2 of the IEEE 802.11n specification, which in some configurations can deliver up to 200Mbps of TCP/IP throughput for 802.11n-equipped clients, compared with about 25Mbps for the current generation of WLAN products. These aren’t the first access points to use the multiple input multiple output (MIMO) technology at the heart of 802.11n, but they are the first targeting enterprises, from small to large.

That’s surprising because the conventional wisdom is that enterprise network executives won’t touch non-standard products. “We just decided that we will not deploy pre-standard products,” says a network analyst at a university in the northeast who requested anonymity. “They can’t guarantee the chipsets will be upgradable by software. Until then we’ll sit tight.” One reason for the reluctance: the new 802.11n access points will have gigabit Ethernet ports and the school will have to upgrade nearly all its edge LAN switches.

But others don’t face that kind of widespread network upgrade. And countering the “sit tight” mindset are two points that could persuade some enterprises to move forward on 802.11n before the late 2008 or early 2009 completion date of the IEEE standard.

One is that 802.11n draft 2 seems unlikely to change in any significant way between now and then, according to vendors and some analysts. Contrary to the university network analyst’s fears, these parties say that any minor changes can be dealt by some new firmware code.

Second, the throughput gains, coupled with a two to three times increase in range, are so dramatic that for the first time wireless Ethernet has the potential to at least match the performance users find on wired LANs.

But notably missing from the flurry of 802.11n announcements are the two market leaders, Cisco and Aruba Networks. Neither has publicly announced 802.11n plans, let alone products.

Besides 802.11n, other wireless news at Interop focuses on improving and enhancing the systems software running controllers and access points, and on building in support for emerging applications such as location services, and bridging between voice calls on cellular networks and on WLANs.

The Wi-Fi Alliance (WFA) announced last week a group of seven 802.11n products that will form the platform for its 802.11n draft 2 interoperability tests, due to begin in late June at 11 third-party labs around the world. These “test bed” products are a collection of 802.11n reference designs and access points from Atheros, Broadcom, Cisco, Intel, Marvel and Raylink. They will become the first certified products as soon as the tests get underway. A WFA spokeswoman said the tests for access points and client adapters will take “hours and days” rather than weeks. Certified products are expected to be generally available starting in the fall.

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