June launch for Proxim wireless switch

Wireless supplier Proxim is to sell a new generation of its Orinoco access points on their voice integration abilities, backed by...

Wireless supplier Proxim is to sell a new generation of its Orinoco access points on their voice integration abilities, backed by a switch that manages wireless access points.

However, the switch will not be available until June, because Proxim wants to include a hand-off to GSM networks. The switch will need extra equipment from Proxim's partners Motorola and Avaya to do all the company promises.

"Wireless Lans have been justifying themselves for the past couple of years," said Proxim UK and Ireland regional sales manager Anthony Fulgoni. "We are trying to push things on a bit by adding another layer to it."

When the whole package is complete, the new AP-4000 access points will communicate to the new switch. This will handle subnet roaming, rogue detection and other security functions. The voice integration will be provided by links to Avaya IP PBXs, a forthcoming Motorola product called Mobility Manager and proposed dual-band Motorola handsets that will roam from GSM to Wi-Fi networks.

"It's a jigsaw puzzle at the moment," said Fulgoni. "When these three pieces come together we have true IP telephony, roaming between Wi-Fi and GSM with one handset. It includes load balancing and roaming across subnets, going from building to building in a campus."

This sounds like a package for mobile operators to sell to IT departments, allowing the telco to keep its involvement in wireless calls within the office. The alternative approach, where the IT manager uses voice convergence to cut the mobile operator out, has been suggested by Nortel, among other companies.

However, Proxim's actual marketing plans for the switches are still emerging. "Are we selling to users or providers? It could go either way," said Fulgoni. "There is no one model that will fit everybody. This approach will open doors but it could cause friction."

In the meantime, he expected IT managers to snap up the AP-4000 on its merits and as a way to be "voice-ready". It is, he claimed, the first access point to have 802.11a, 802.11b and 802.11g on a single-board system.

It uses two radios, using Atheros chipsets. As a result, it can give users a high aggregate data rate, or let them use the 802.11a channel to create a wireless mesh if it is hard to connect the APs by Ethernet.

The access points also include SNMPv3 (which encrypts management data to prevent the use of SNMP to break Wi-Fi security), Secure-HTTP, Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) and Wi-Fi Protected Access. The AES encryption standard will be available as a software upgrade in the summer when it is finalised, bringing the AP up to the full 802.11i security spec. With 32MB of RAM, it should be able to handle other software upgrades, said Fulgoni.

The product will broadcast at 100mW, instead of using 50mW and relying on sensitive antennae, as previous Proxim products have done, said Fulgoni, adding that because the products still have that sensitivity this will improve the range.

Proxim's wireless Lan switch will be available first in a 16-port model, with eight and 24-port versions later this year. The switch will support an early, but unofficial, version of the 802.11e quality-of-service standard, which is designed to ensure high-quality voice and streaming media over Wlans.

Motorola, another Proxim partner, said it would release a compact handset this year with a cellular interface and a WlanN card. That will serve to arbitrate a voice or data handoff between a cellular network and an enterprise Wlan or hot spot.

Fulgoni denied that Proxim is a late-comer to the wireless switch market, having delivered most of the functions of existing wireless switches, such as centralised control and security, in its Harmony range in 1990, which included access points and a management module.

However, Harmony was designed to work with Proxim's own range of Wi-Fi and pre-Wi-Fi wireless Lan equipment, which was sidelined by the Agere Orinoco range which Proxim purchased in 1992.

"We were too early," said Fulgoni. "There wasn't enough demand for mobility. Rather than retool Harmony, we want to have a product that brings us forward."

Proxim went with partners to get all the skills required, said Fulgoni. "We couldn't have done this by ourselves. Nor could Avaya or Motorola."

Peter Judge writes for Techworld.com

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