WLAN Switches Heat Up Networking Space

Newcomers include Airespace, Aruba Wireless Networks, Legra Systems, Trapeze Networks and Vivato, while more established players such as Extreme Networks, Nortel Networks, Proxim and Symbol Technologies have launched new wireless switches and solutions of their own.

But executives at Cisco Systems said the networking leader already offers the same features and functionality as the new wireless switches in its WLAN 1100 and 1200 series access points, which incorporate Cisco's IOS operating system for wired switches and routers.

"Cisco's WLAN offering provides the same level of features and support services that wireless switch vendors are attributing as unique to their architecture," said Ron Seide, product line manager for Cisco's wireless networking business unit. Neither Seide nor other Cisco executives would say whether the vendor has any plans to introduce its own wireless switch.

Abner Germano, research manager at IDC, said newer wireless networking companies are working to solve one basic problem: how to manage lots of different access points without deploying more manpower or overburdening IT departments.

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"If a user calls with a problem, the ability to diagnose that problem on a WLAN is much harder than on a wired LAN, so you have a whole slew of companies coming to market to try to make wireless just as easy to manage as wired," Germano said. "The architecture certainly makes a lot of sense, and the demand is there."

Case in point: Dan Elliott, vice president of mobile technologies at CompuCom, a solution provider based in Dallas, said he's already welcomed the arrival of the WLAN switch.

"Wireless LAN switches are the way to go," Elliott said. "They offer much more control and are a lot easier to manage."

WLAN switches from Pleasanton, Calif.-based Trapeze Networks feature enhanced management control,the ability to detect rogue access points in an enterprise, for example.

Elliott said he's used the Trapeze switch's site survey security features to highlight access points that companies didn't even think they had in their buildings.

Some industry watchers, including Elliott and Germano, said they expect the now-crowded WLAN switch vendor space to thin out by this time next year,probably because one of the larger access-point companies will have purchased some of the up-and-comers.

Most new products will be rolled out in earnest over the next few months, according to the companies. And while it remains to be seen how these products and companies will shake out in the marketplace, the demand for wireless and mobile network infrastructure products remains strong.

According to IDC, despite a 22 percent decline in 2002, spending on wireless and mobile network infrastructure is expected to grow to nearly $49 billion in 2007 from $38.3 billion in 2002.

Judging by the more than 65 solution providers that showed up at Trapeze's channel partner event at the recent NetWorld++Interop show in Las Vegas, interest in the company's products is strong, said George Prodan, senior vice president of worldwide marketing at Trapeze.

The vendor's Mobility Exchange wireless switch allows customers to touch the wired network only once,in the wiring closet,and adds the intelligence to install a full-blown wireless system.

"We're managing the [Trapeze] Mobility Point [access point] and the ability to control the edge of the network and provide more people with fewer network elements," Prodan said. "That's the real power of the Mobility Exchange wireless switch."

KRISTEN KENEDY contributed to this story.