Going above and beyond

Selected by five Network World contributors, these category-breaking products raise the bar with their novel approaches to solving today's enterprise challenges.

The Belkin Pre-N wireless LAN family offers unprecedented transmission range. The distance covered by a WLAN can be crucial in settings such as small offices and retail stores. Extra reach avoids the hassle and expense associated with installing repeaters or multiple access points attached to a cable backbone.

The category breaker: Belkin's Pre-N wireless LAN family

Selected by Ira Brodsky, president of Datacomm Research, "Totally Unplugged" columnist

The Belkin Pre-N wireless LAN family offers unprecedented transmission range. The distance covered by a WLAN can be crucial in settings such as small offices and retail stores. Extra reach avoids the hassle and expense associated with installing repeaters or multiple access points attached to a cable backbone. These products are not only compatible with the 802.11b and 802.11g standards; they boost the range achievable with those standards by about 20%.

Range is an often-overlooked limitation of WLANs. Range isn't crucial in most large offices, because the network consists of multiple WLAN access points interconnected via an Ethernet backbone; the access points are spaced as needed. But what about small offices, retail stores and other settings where deploying more access points would negate the ease of installation and low cost that made wireless so attractive?

Good range is essential in many applications. For example, WLAN technology is used in small and remote offices to avoid installing cable. In a retail store or warehouse, WLAN technology enables mobile use of wireless bar code scanners and PDAs. However, the advantage of going wireless is diminished if the signals can't reach all of the desired locations.

Corporate IT managers should recognize that the Belkin Pre-N family was designed for homes and small offices and may not be appropriate for large offices. For example, the wireless routers don't support Power over Ethernet, access point mode or SMTP. However, they do support VPNs and QoS.

The Belkin Pre-N products offer other nice features. When talking to standard 802.11g and 802.11b devices, the Pre-N devices use their multiple-input multiple-output (MIMO) circuitry to provide a smart antenna function, modestly increasing the transmission range. Also, in mixed environments - such as networks with 802.11g and/or 802.11b as well as Pre-N client devices - the network does not drop to the lowest common speed.

IT managers should understand that Pre-N means these products implement the core technology (MIMO-orthogonal frequency division multiplexing [OFDM]) for the anticipated 802.11n standard. Pre-N does not mean these products are compatible with or easily upgradeable to the not-yet-finalized standard. Therefore, Pre-N products should be employed where the performance and/or cost advantages are sufficient to justify the use of a non-standard mode. In many cases, Pre-N devices will have paid for themselves by the time certified 802.11n products become widely available. Plus, Belkin's Pre-N products are 100% compatible with the 802.11b and 802.11g standards.

Of course, certified 802.11n products are a safe bet for enterprises, but probably won't be available until 2007. Based on the taste of MIMO-OFDM provided by Belkin's Pre-N family, expect 802.11n products to proliferate quickly, boosting the utility of WLANs and expanding the market.

Who's using it? The IT department of Synnex, a global IT supply-chain services company in Fremont, Calif., uses the Pre-N family. For example, it has an application for which it has replaced three 802.11g wireless routers with one pre-N router.

How much will it cost the enterprise, on average? The Belkin wireless routers are priced at around $125 each. The desktop and laptop cards cost between $70 and $100. Note that the desktop card is actually a notebook card plugged into a desktop PCI slot adapter.

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