Vendors Flood Market With New Wireless Gear

Wireless LAN vendors will be out in full force at this week's Interop Las Vegas 2007, demonstrating how a market seemingly heading toward commoditization is still ripe for profit for solution providers.

A variety of vendors -- from dedicated wireless players, like Aruba, Bluesocket, Meru Networks and Trapeze Networks, to broader players, like Nortel Networks and Netgear -- are rolling out new WLAN wares at the conference, which is run by CRN parent company CMP Media.

And it's not just a market for old standbys. The group includes startups, including Aerohive Networks and Ruckus Wireless, as well as new entrants to the space, such as Adtran.

All are eager to grab their share of the WLAN equipment market, which hit $2.8 billion worldwide in 2006, up 18 percent compared to the previous year, according to Infonetics Research.

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"Our customers are all asking for [wireless]; our engineers that weren't that interested in it now have a lot of interest in it," said Tom Gobeille, president of Network Computing Architects, a solution provider in Bellevue, Wash. "I thought that it was scorched earth, but now you can actually make money selling wireless with services and ongoing support."

Helping drive the push for WLAN technology is customers' growing appetite for solutions that enable employees to work remotely, Gobeille said.

"It's the virtualized workforce. We have to do it, too. We keep hiring, but we don't have the space," Gobeille said. "We're looking at enabling employees to work [remotely], and wireless plays into that."

Another driver of all of this WLAN activity is the forthcoming 802.11n high-speed wireless standard. Products based on 802.11n should bring data rates as fast as 600 Mbps, up from 54 Mbps today, and boost capacity to 400 Mbps or more, compared to 24 Mbps with current technology.

Even though the standard won't reach ratification until next year, products based on the draft version of 802.11n have already flooded the market. While early consumer draft-N wares proved somewhat disappointing, the Wi-Fi Alliance's decision to begin certifying prestandard products this summer is expected to bring a new wave of credibility, which vendors are ready to cash in on with business-class products.

NEXT: Trapeze flies with 802.11n.

Trapeze is hitting the 802.11n bandwagon hard at Interop with the launch of its new Mobility Point (MP)-432 enterprise access point, which is based on the 2.0 version of the draft. The access point can operate on 2.4-GHz and 5-GHz bands simultaneously at 300 Mbps per band.

"Enterprise Wi-Fi is still in its early stages. A lot of enterprises have been slow to adopt it, but for a lot of folks, 802.11n is what's going to get them to deploy, so there's a lot of new opportunity for resellers," said David Cohen, director of product marketing at Trapeze, Pleasanton, Calif.

To help capitalize on that opportunity, the company built the MP-432 so that customers would be able to leverage investments they've already made in Trapeze WLAN infrastructure, Cohen said. For example, customers will be able to use their existing Trapeze MX WLAN controllers with the new access point because of the vendor's Smart Mobile architecture, unveiled last fall. With Smart Mobile, traffic does not have to pass through the controller, meaning the WLAN switch will not cause a bottleneck in network performance as the higher-capacity 802.11n access points are deployed, Cohen said.

In addition, customers can utilize their existing 802.3af Power over Ethernet (PoE)-compatible power injectors with the MP-432, even though 802.11n access points draw more power than their predecessors, he said.

"You can utilize the lower 802.3af injectors and still get full 11n [performance] on one or the other band, but not at the same time ... But if you have a PoE rack-mounted injector and you have unused ports, you can draw another line to the MP-432's second port and get full power. That's no small feat. A lot of engineering went into that," Cohen said, noting that the access point also supports the forthcoming high-power 802.3at PoE standard.

Trapeze expects pricing, which has not yet been finalized, to be less than $1,500. The MP-432 is expected to ship in the fourth quarter.

Meantime, Ruckus is entering the SMB WLAN market with the introduction of ZoneFlex, along with a channel program it says will provide partners with margins of up to 35 percent. The ZoneFlex Wi-Fi family includes the vendor's BeamFlex technology, which enables an antenna array that can reconfigure itself to find the best signal path to each user.

Ruckus access points also can use mesh networking to communicate without connecting back to the controller. New products, which will be demonstrated at the CRN Hall of Fame event at Interop, include the ZoneDirector 1000 controller, ZoneFlex 2942 802.11g and access points, and the ZoneFlex 2925 desktop access point. The products are scheduled for availability this summer, with controllers starting at $1,200 and access points starting at $259. The company plans to launch an 802.11n access point in the third quarter.

NEXT: More Interop product launches from Nortel, Netgear and others.

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