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Comdex panel debate WLAN architectures

Nov 10, 20032 mins
Cellular NetworksNetwork SecurityWi-Fi

* Debate with vendors about WLAN architecture pros and cons

By the time you read this, Comdex will be just a week away and another meaty wireless track is on the agenda. I’m lucky enough to get to moderate what should be a lively panel/debate session on the infamous wireless LAN architecture controversy.

In response to participant questions, and some thrown in by me, vendor panelists will debate not only the pros and cons of thin and thick access points, but also topics such as how to best manage heterogeneous WLAN environments, including client devices. Also, what, if anything, do the WLAN makers build into products today to ensure voice over IP (VoIP) quality, given that the IEEE 802.11e quality-of-service (QoS) standard is at somewhat of an impasse? How do vendors support virtual LANs (VLAN) in a mobile environment? How do they deal with interference?

There is no lack of technical issues to explore. If you are going to Comdex, think up some questions like these of your own and come to the session, “The WLAN Architecture Debate,” Tuesday, Nov. 18, from 2:00 to 3:15 p.m.

There will be representatives from companies that make fat access points (Cisco), a thin access-point start-up (Legra), a company that makes both thin and fat access points (Proxim), a management overlay company for heterogeneous environments (Wavelink) and, finally, a company that says it has a unique architecture for eliminating co-channel interference (AirFlow Networks). Truly, I wish we had all day to drill these and any number of other companies on how their systems handle these myriad issues. The considerations with WLANs are broad and many, and the latest solutions just keep getting more interesting.

Just last week, for example, I reported on yet another startup, BelAir Networks, which combines in-building WLAN coverage and last-mile backhaul capabilities in one type of outdoor access point. On the heels of that announcement was Nortel’s notice that it is trialing a similar-sounding architecture with MIT and BT.

Nortel’s forthcoming devices, explained a company spokesman, enable a number of access points covering, say, a cafeteria, warehouse, airport or some other large area to communicate wirelessly to an “aggregator” access point-the only one in the group that actually needs a cabled connection back to the wired network, thus potentially further reducing cabling costs and headaches.