What's Best For WLAN?

With a variety of new wireless wares coming to market over the next few months, solution providers have more choices than ever when it comes to finding the best WLAN infrastructure for their customers.

Startups like Aerohive Networks and Ruckus Wireless are hitting the market hard with new technology that takes a fresh look at the way Wi-Fi networks are deployed.

Key to these vendors' plans are their channel partners, who are poised to educate customers on the new technology and push it out into real-world deployments.

Wireless was one of the hottest topics at last week's Interop Las Vegas 2007, with nearly every major player in the space demonstrating new or forthcoming products at the show, which is run by CMP Technology, CRN's parent company.

Sponsored post

The upsurge in new technology is spurred in part by the anticipated approval next year of the 802.11n standard for high-speed wireless by the IEEE. Products based on the standard should bring data rates as fast as 600 Mbps, up from 54 Mbps today, and boost capacity to 400 Mbps or more, compared with the current technology's 24 Mbps capacity.

The advent of broadband Wi-Fi brings the promise of advanced applications and improved productivity to users and has WLAN vendors scrambling to ensure that wireless switches and access points can handle the extra load.

At the same time, customers' interest in WLAN deployments is on the rise, solution providers said. "802.11n comes up in almost every discussion," said Stuart Brainerd, president of Synapse Networks, a solution provider in Chicago.

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 Draft-N wares proved somewhat disappointing, the Wi-Fi Alliance's decision to begin certifying pre-standard products this summer is expected to bring a new wave of credibility.

With all that's new in the space, it's no wonder solution providers like Brainerd, who have eschewed the WLAN market until now, say it's time to jump in.

If not for the emergence of Aerohive, a startup founded in early 2006 that launched its first product line earlier this month, Synapse Networks likely would not be starting up a wireless practice. But Synapse's technology and channel-friendly management team made up primarily of former NetScreen Technologies execs were too much to resist, Brainerd said.

"If Aerohive had not come along, we probably wouldn't be making this big move," he said.

Santa Clara, Calif.-based Aerohive unveiled a new product line that aims to reshape wireless network architectures by offering the benefits of centralized management without the need for WLAN switches.

The architecture offers the management, mobility and security of "thin" centrally managed wireless architectures but eliminates the costs, capacity limitations and performance bottlenecks that WLAN controllers bring, said Aerohive CEO David Flynn.

"We offer a cleaner network architecture that's easier to deploy and at a lower cost," Flynn said.

Aerohive's controllerless architecture could become a key differentiator as 802.11n high-gear hits the market, since Aerohive customers will be able to deploy its forthcoming 802.11n access points without having to add or upgrade any controllers.

Next: Ruckus takes a different approach.

Aerohive's product line includes a family of what it is calling "cooperative control" access points. The first available model is the HiveAP 20 ag, which supports 802.11a/b/g. The lineup also includes the HiveManager Network Management System Appliance, an optional box that provides centralized provisioning, configuration and monitoring.

The access points work as a "hive," a group of access points that discover each other, work together via mesh networking, automate RF management and support full-state roaming and best-path routing. If one goes down, the others can pick up the slack so users don't lose connectivity, Flynn said.

Ruckus is taking a different approach. Like many of its peers, its wireless portfolio relies on a WLAN controller. What's new is the vendor's BeamFlex technology, which enables an antenna array that can reconfigure itself to find the best signal path to each user.

The capability makes Ruckus networks easier to deploy and gives them two to four times the coverage area of normal off-the-shelf wireless gear, said Selina Lo, president and CEO of Ruckus, Sunnyvale, Calif.

The company, which has been selling to consumers and service providers for the past three years, now is bringing that technology to the SMB market and wireless hot-zone operators with the launch of its ZoneFlex product line.

Ruckus' strategy to target customers with 50 to 500 wireless workers stems from the belief that current solutions are either too high-end or low-end for customers of that size, Lo said.

"Existing products address the top end of the enterprise, the Fortune 1000, that have an army of experts on staff, or the SOHOs, customers with less than 10 users with a small coverage area and single access point," Lo said. "Small and medium-[size] businesses and hot-zone operators are stuck in the middle with products that are too complicated or too simplistic."

New products 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.

Ruckus plans to launch an 802.11n access point in the third quarter. Ruckus this month also rolled out a channel program around the new products, which provides partners with margins of up to 35 percent and signed Tessco as its first distribution partner for the new products.