Wire-Free Technology Comes Of Age In The Enterprise

Dueling standards and security issues can’t keep corporate America on the fence

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Despite security concerns and competing standards, wireless LANs are gaining traction in the corporate marketplace, solution providers say.

"We've seen a tremendous resurgence in business since December," said Gary Berzack, CEO of New York-based solution provider Tribeca Technologies.

"It's getting to be quite interesting," said John Baker, wireless practice director at ThruPoint, a solution provider also based in New York. "The wireless LAN is being seen as a component that provides strategic benefit rather than just an access technology. As a technology, it has finally made it."

Wireless LAN vendors sold 8.1 million 802.11b network interface cards and access points to businesses in 2001, said Gemma Paulo, an analyst at Cahners In-Stat. That figure was up from 3.3 million in 2000, and the research firm projects that sales will rise to 11 million units in 2002.

While security concerns were top-of-mind last year, customers seem satisfied with the way vendors are addressing those issues, Baker said. "[Wireless is not that different from any other access technology. It has to be a part of the whole enterprise security posture."

In many markets, wireless LANs have moved from a "wow-driven" technology to a "needs-driven solution," Berzack said, citing health care, campus environments and warehouse applications as the most active market niches right now.

And it seems the war between different wireless LAN standards may subside over time. As recently as December, some larger companies were sitting on the fence, waiting for the battle between noninteroperable standards to play out. But many of those companies plan to move forward with 802.11b solutions this year, said solution providers.

Current WLAN products are based on IEEE's 802.11b standard (Wi-Fi) and deliver 11 Mbps in the 2.4GHz range. New products released in late 2001 and based on the 802.11a standard (or Wi-Fi 5) deliver 54 Mbps in the 5GHz range, so they're not interoperable with the 802.11b installed base. To further

confuse matters, an IEEE committee has released a draft of yet another standard, 802.11g. Products based on that standard would deliver 54 Mbps in the 2.4GHz range, so they would be compatible with the installed base of 802.11b products.

Still, major networking vendors such as 3Com and Cisco have yet to release 802.11a products, and offerings based on 802.11g won't be available until 2003, at the earliest.

Many companies are going ahead with 802.11b deployments now, with plans to overlay one of the faster wireless LAN technologies later on, Berzack said. "Our customers realize this technology may be supplanted, but it won't disappear," he said. "So they're relying on us to be their wireless architects and integrators as the technologies evolve."

And evolve they will. Baker cautions against leaving third-generation, or 3G, cell networks out of the mix.

As carriers' cellular networks adopt that data-ready technology, corporate clients and vendors envision the day when workers' mobile phones can roam from a carrier's network to the corporate WLAN as employees enter the office, Baker said. "That's where the integration gets interesting," he said.

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