WLANs shift to new gear

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WLANs shift to new gear

By John Cox

Network World, 11/17/03

New wireless LAN products from Cisco and a pack of others are the latest evidence that keeping up with advances in this market is getting ever more challenging.

New 802.11g-based radios from Cisco, for example, feature the fifth iteration of the company's 2.4-GHz chipset, which blends Cisco silicon with that of an unnamed partner. Quite apart from the data rate boost in 802.11g (54M bit/sec vs. 11M bit/sec for 802.11b, in the same frequency band), Cisco recommends enterprise customers upgrade to 802.11g from 802.11b because of improvements in range and throughput due to the silicon engineering advances.

3Com, Aruba Wireless Networks, Bluesocket, Newbury Networks and SMC Networks, also are rolling out new offerings. They range from WLAN switches to adapter cards that boost wireless range.

But as welcome as the improvements might prove, for many companies the mantra of "new and improved and faster" is secondary to the complexities that WLANs are introducing.

"When we talk with big enterprises about WLANs, the first things that come up are operational issues, like 'How do I support the network?' 'How do I manage all these new security functions?' and [also] questions about the cost of operating the WLAN," says Abner Germanow, a research manager at IDC. "After that, we talk about [WLAN] performance."

That's not to suggest corporations aren't buying WLAN infrastructure products. Worldwide, this group bought 17% more access points last year than they did the year before, according to Synergy Research Group. And for the first nine months of this year, they snapped up about 806,800 access points, which is 26% more than they purchased through the first nine months of last year.

Still, observers wonder if shipments might be even higher if there were not so many questions.

"Some customers are confused about 802.11a [54M bit/sec, 5-GHz band] vs. 11b vs. 11g, and confused about the [WLAN] security options," says Tom Hagin, vice president of wireless business at NetXperts, a San Ramon, Calif., systems integrator that builds Cisco-based WLANs for enterprise clients. For those clients, NetXperts is taking a conservative approach, such as by not using the new class of WLAN switches. "They're vaporware at this point largely," Hagin says. "We're not willing to put them into production yet."

Even vendors seem to agree that the flood of products might be causing customers to hold back on large-scale deployments.

 "You need other things besides [just] faster silicon," said Jim Johnson, general manager of Intel's wireless network group, who spoke last week at the Cisco product announcement. "You need services, features, ease of use."

As for Cisco, in addition to the new 802.11g radios for its Aironet 1100 and 1200 access points, the company unveiled WLAN client adapters that can work with 802.11a, 802.11b or 802.11g access points, and Version 2.5 of the CiscoWorks Wireless LAN Solutions Engine (WLSE), which is a server for administering access points. WLSE 2.5 now can work with the access point software to detect unauthorized access points, approximate the location of an access point and automate at least some of the work in figuring out where to place and configure them.

A new version of Cisco's IOS software, designed for the Aironet access points, includes a built-in encryption engine for the Advanced Encryption System, which is expected to become the WLAN cryptographic algorithm when the IEEE 802.11i security standard is finalized next year.

To read this story in full, please go to: http://www.nwfusion.com/news/2003/1117cisco.html?nl

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Copyright © 2003 IDG Communications, Inc.

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