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Wireless switches target Wi-Fi hurdles

Wireless switches are making inroads into the enterprise with a set of management and deployment features designed to make Wi-Fi technologies a must-buy.

Vivato, Symbol Technologies, Trapeze Networks and Aruba Wireless Networks are among the companies developing switches designed to overcome many of the hurdles preventing Wi-Fi from dominating the enterprise.

"The enterprise market is stagnating a bit," said Dana Tardelli, a network research analyst at Gartner.  "The major areas [preventing widespread adoption] are still security and management. The networking fundamentals haven't expanded to Wi-Fi yet."

Late last month Vivato, a San Francisco-based startup, unveiled a wireless switch that transmits three simultaneous beams up to 300m, but, more importantly, the switch features advanced security functions and can be managed centrally, similar to how Ethernet-based equipment is managed.

"With our wireless switch we're repackaging Wi-Fi to make it more enterprise friendly," explained Vivato vice president of marketing Phil Belanger, who agreed security was still the utmost concern of all IT managers. "Deploying multiple access points is expensive and time consuming; a Wi-Fi switch eliminates these issues."

Vivato's switch also allows network administrators to detect rogue access points (AP).

Wireless stalwart Symbol Technologies has already introduced a Wi-Fi switch, and officials at startups Trapeze and Aruba said they were developing wireless switches that address some limitations of today's architected Wi-Fi equipment.

"Wi-Fi is expensive and complex to deploy," said  Aruba communications director David Callisch. "If something changes, everything has to be touched."

Callisch said security in Wi-Fi networks typically resides in access points and that accessing each device when security policies change can be difficult and time-consuming.

"Most access points in use today were never designed for the enterprise, but [rather] the home or small office," said Callisch, who added that Arubais is in beta with its switch and anticipated shipping in late April.

However, a report published by Synergy Research said the enterprise market grew only 1% in the fourth quarter of 2002. This stagnation was partially because of a perception that wireless LANs in the enterprise are "nice to have," said Synergy analyst Aaron Vance.

However, Wi-Fi is predictred to take off in vertical industries such as health care, education, retail and shipping and logistics.

"Right now, Wi-Fi is an easily deferrable cost. It is not critical in most offices," explains Ray Martinoe, general manager of the network systems group at Symbol. "[However] the technology will reach the mature phase soon and then we'll see companies willing to invest and make those tough decisions."


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