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Switch-based Wlan market grows more competitive

Extreme Networks and Trapeze Networks unveiled switch-based enterprise wireless Lan products yesterday to get a jump in a market that is exepcted to get crowded this month before the Networld+Interop conference in Las Vegas on 27 April.

Analysts said another five companies, which did not want their identities revealed, will launch similar products.

Nortel Networks and Symbol Technologies introduced similar switch-based systems last year. 

Older Wi-Fi hardware puts all the intelligence, such as security and the radio frequency modules, into a ceiling-mounted piece of hardware called an access point. The newer switch-based architecture reduces the AP to a dumb terminal containing just RF modules, with security and management housed in a rack-mounted switch. 

In-Stat MDR analyst Gemma Paulo said this approach allows enterprises to buy relatively inexpensive APs and put their money into switches that provide IT managers with more control over their wireless networks than they could achieve with an older-generation "smart" AP. 

Despite this growth, Paulo said the market might not be able to support so many new products as well as older systems, such as the smart AP-based systems from Cisco Systems and Proxim. 

She added that Cisco, the dominant player, could put heavy pressure on its competition by introducing a similar switched-based architecture.

Despite the similarities among switched-based wireless LAN systems, Paulo said that Extreme Networks' entry is a standout. The product combines the functionality of a 48-port 10/100 Ethernet wired switch with a system that can manage dumb wireless APs that operate under the 802.11b (11Mbit/sec. in the 2.4-GHz band), 802.11g (54Mbit/sec. in the 2.4-GHz band) and 802.11a (54Mbit/sec. in the 5-GHz band) standards. 

Extreme Networks has called this wired/wireless switch approach a "unified architecture", which company president Gordon Stitt said meets all the networking requirements of an enterprise. "It's not about wireless LANs or wireless enterprises; it's about a networked enterprise," he added.  

Vipin Jain, vice president of the Wlan access group at Extreme Networks, said all Wlan management, including multiple security protocols, the ability to authenticate users and the ability to detect rogue APs, is built into the switch. The Extreme Networks Summit 300-48 switch sells for $6,495, while a dumb AP sells for $595. 

Paulo said WLAN switch-based products from Symbol and those introduced by Trapeze Networks lacked the tight integration between wired and wireless networks offered by the Extreme Networks system. 

Trapeze has built its system around a Mobility Exchange switch that features 20 10/100 Ethernet ports and dumb APs that it calls Mobility Points priced at $9,500 for a starter kit, which includes the switch and two dual-mode (802.11a and 802.11b) APs. 

Trapeze is pushing what it calls "identity-based networking," based on a suite of management tools that authenticates users and provides various levels of network access privileges. Trapeze has also built in the ability to detect unauthorized users and the presence of rogue APs on the network.


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