Wi-Fi products continue to confuse

Bluesocket and D-Link have launched Wi-Fi products, and NetGear is preparing to launch a low-cost wireless Lan switch early next...

Bluesocket and D-Link  have launched Wi-Fi products, and NetGear is preparing to launch a low-cost wireless Lan switch early next year, adding to the confusing array facing IT managers.

The products join other new arrivals from Airespace, Aruba Wireless Networks and Cisco Systems.

The NetGear FSM7326P, a 24-port Layer 3 Managed 10/100 switch with Power-on-Ethernet is only available in the US, for a hitherto unmatched price of $1,750 for a 24-port switch which can support up to 15 access points.

Other suppliers will weigh in to point out that their products do more, but it's a device that should suit an office that needs multiple access points, and the price will get it noticed when it arrives in the UK early in 2004.

Although Bluesocket's WG-5000 Gateway  manages the access points attached to a network and firewalling. It does not connect directly to the access points through ports, but uses Layer 3 tunnels across the network. The new model takes Bluesocket up to 1 Gbit/s throughput and 1,000 users.

Other suppliers have criticised Bluesocket and the similar Vernier system (sold by Hewlett-Packard) as little more than firewalls. However, Bluesocket's approach is well established (it can point to more customers than some of the startups). Since it does not add any switches to the network, or mandate particular access points, it is unlikely to step on the toes of the giants, particularly market leader Cisco - a company notably hostile to true wireless switches from the likes of Airespace and Aruba.

"Ninety per cent of the networks we plug into are Cisco networks," said Bluesocket  EMEA general manager Martin Cassidy. Although he claims his appliance performs as five Cisco boxes, it leaves the switches and access points to Cisco. "We aren't competing with them," he added.

Finally, still without a wireless switch product to its name, D-Link contributed to the confusion of UK IT managers by launching faster access points - which differ from the faster access points offered by the company in the US.

The AirPlus Xtreme G+ wireless base station compresses data, giving a faster throughput, which D-Link claims is a better way to get a speed gain than the Super-G technology that rival NetGear is offering. Compressing data on standard 802.11g signals is less wasteful of radio bandwidth than binding channels together as in Super-G, is the D-Link argument.

So far, so good, except that D-Link's actual radio is based on the same Atheros Communications chipset as NetGear, and D-Link in the US is offering the Super-G speed boost which D-Link Europe is so dismissive about. 

Meanwhile, rival chip company Broadcom has slammed Atheros - along with D-Link and NetGear - for using Super-G, claiming it would degrade regular 802.11g performance on nearby nodes.

This criticism should not apply to D-Link's G+ products available in Europe. "We aren't offering Super-G in Europe because we want backward compatibility with Airplus [a speed boost which takes D-Link's 802.11b access points up to 22 Mbit/s]," said Nick Bharadia, a pre-sales engineer at D-Link.

Since D-Link does offer switches, it seems likely that the company will offer some kind of wireless switch in future.

Peter Judge writes for Techworld.com

Read more on IT strategy