Proxim offers peek into voice-centric switching system

* Proxim details forthcoming ORiNOCO wireless switch

A year after announcing a cooperative effort with Avaya and Motorola to build a voice-centric wireless LAN/WAN system, Proxim is now providing some details of its forthcoming ORiNOCO wireless switch.

The company says the Proxim ORiNOCO Switching System will ship in the second quarter. The company hinted that we'd be hearing from its two partners about the details of their complementary products in that time frame, as well.

The Proxim-Avaya-Motorola partnership is centered around allowing enterprises to layer voice onto their Wi-Fi networks in a way that enables fast, nondisruptive roaming, not only across Wi-Fi subnets but also into the cellular domain.

Users who rack up large cellular bills - often unnecessarily when sitting at their office desks - can be outfitted with a dual-mode Wi-Fi/cellular handset. When they roam around the campus, they converse on the "free" campus phone network and use the company's calling plan for outside calls. When they roam outdoors, their handset automatically detects the fading Wi-Fi signal, looks for a cellular signal to match the handset protocol, and seamlessly transfers the caller to the cellular service.

The handoff will happen, eventually, by communication between an Avaya IP PBX, Motorola dual-mode handsets, and a Motorola server called Mobility Manager, says Lynn Lucas, Proxim director of product marketing.

Avaya's role also includes contributing its wired LAN switch, which Proxim has made "wireless-aware" and has turned into the Proxim ORiNOCO Switching System. Avaya is also coordinating with Proxim for supporting 911 services, which requires that the ORiNOCO switch know at least which access point a user is connected to at the time a call is placed.

If you are a relative newcomer to this newsletter, check out the "Related Links" section below. I've written often about client-device deployment strategies (in particular, phones) in the face of the convergence of not only voice and data but of wireless and wired networks. If you're not careful, users could end up with any number of devices for voice communication alone - a potentially huge inefficiency both in terms of capital costs, network usage fees, and user frustration.

The Proxim-Avaya-Motorola effort, while still to be proven, is an encouraging attempt to pull together the integrated voice-data-wired-wireless piece parts. In advance of 802.11e standards and technology from the newly formed 802.11 Fast Roaming Study Group, Proxim's forthcoming switch reportedly takes a birds-eye view of the wireless landscape to help ensure that voice is well cared for.

For example, the dual-band, 802.11a/b/g-capable switch and corresponding access points authenticate users when they initially connect to the WLAN, then automatically pre-authenticate users on neighboring access points. This prevents latency from continually re-authenticating if the user should roam, explains Lucas. ORiNOCO switches tunnel user sessions among them to avoid sessions getting dropped when a user roams among subnets.

In the ORiNOCO setup, access points - under the direction of the "omniscient" switch - determine how to balance traffic loads. In typical installations today, clients associate to the strongest signal for load balancing. This works well from a data throughput point of view, but isn't as efficient for battling latency in voice sessions, Lucas says.

To get the voice benefits out of the Proxim system in the near term, you must use the lightweight access points that are part of the new switching system or the company's new AP-4000s. You can use other access points with the new switch, but you won't get the voice benefits. Proxim is not revealing product pricing at this time.

Learn more about this topic

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Network World Wireless in the Enterprise Newsletter, 06/30/03

Finding a plan for client deployment

Network World Wireless in the Enterprise Newsletter, 07/02/03

VoIP on the LAN has wireless ramifications

Network World Wireless in the Enterprise Newsletter, 07/24/02

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