Enterasys Networks stole a march on its rivals by announcing that it will introduce this summer a wireless LAN access hub called the RoamAbout2 that supports the new standard.
Wireless LAN hubs receive and transmit wireless signals between the end user and the wired LAN. Most existing hubs use the 802.11b IEEE specification, which supports wireless traffic at 11Mbit/sec. But according to Enterasys, its new device is a dual-slot chassis that will hold not only the 802.11b card, but also a yet-to-be-released 802.11a card.
Enterasys' move seems to have riled its competitors, with Cisco Systems saying that it does not believe 801.11a is ready for serious use.
Wireless LAN provider Proxim weighed in too, saying it would incorporate 802.11a into its Harmony line of 802.11b products by selling 802.11a-specific access hubs instead of dual-slot hubs that handle both specifications. Proxim's reasoning: 802.11a will probably not transmit as far as 802.11b, which means a dual-slot approach could leave holes in wireless coverage.
James Wiedel, director of networking at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles and an Enterasys wireless LAN customer, called Cisco's reaction "typically Cisco", noting that "Cisco always wants all of your business".
Wiedel has already ordered some RoamAbout2s. "They'll let us run 11b now, and in the future, all we have to do is drop in an 11a unit, and it will run it too," he said.
Wiedel said he is concerned that Cisco will end up with a proprietary 802.11a system that works only with other Cisco equipment.
JP Garvin, assistant director of information systems at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health in Baltimore, disagreed. While the 11Mbit/sec wireless Cisco Aironet system he has installed to serve 1,500 students does include mostly Cisco network interface cards, he also tested 802.11b cards from Dell. and from Agere Systems with the Cisco wireless access hubs. "They work just fine with the Aironet," Garvin said.
John Smolek, a research analyst at IDC, said the faster 802.11a specification might be right for high-bandwidth applications but is not necessarily appropriate for those that require the longer reach of 802.11b.
An Enterasys spokesman said that RoamAbout2 will be priced at $1,900 (£1,300) per access point with transceiver cards in both chassis slots and will be available in July. But the 802.11a card will not ship until late this year or the first quarter of next year.