Wireless access management without switches

Proxim has launched a suite of software from third parties that knits access points together and contends with purpose-built...

Proxim has launched a suite of software from third parties that knits access points together and contends with purpose-built wireless switches from other suppliers.

The wireless network company has also launched an enterprise access point which includes Atheros Communications' Super mode and a new version of its access point software that lets existing access points operate faster and more securely.

"Essentially this is a substitute for wireless switches," said Ben Gibson, vice-president of marketing at Proxim. "These features are talked about as needing a wireless switch architecture, but we don't feel that deploying new hardware is the best or market-viable way to meet these needs." The software runs on a dedicated server.

Unkind observers might wonder whether the company's recent big cash settlement with rival Symbol Technologies made the third-party software option a necessity.

The Orinoco Smart Wireless Suite includes Mobile Manager and Avalanche from Wavelink, which manage wireless access points and distribute software to them, as well as the Ekahau site survey software. The suite handles RF management, so access points can select WiFi channels to operate on and handle rogue detection and wireless intrusion detection.

Proxim does have a switch system in its portfolio, developed with Avaya and Motorola and aimed at the voice-on-WiFi market:

"We are neutral," said Gibson. "There are different customers with different preferences, but the majority deploy wireless Lans with functions in the access point."

The new access point, the AP-700, is up to the mark on security (WPA2) and quality of service (complying with the draft IEEE 802.11e spec). It also operates faster by using the Atheros chipset's Super mode in Proxim access points to give a real throughput of 30Mbps. It supports the a, b and g variants of 802.11, and as a security measure scans both 2.4GHz and 5GHz for wireless activity.

The single-radio access point can't scan and handle data simultaneously, so scans cause an occasional one-second delay in transmission, but, according to Gibson, the access point can be configured to give the minimum of trouble. "The network manager can configure an acceptable frequency of polling."

Although it has been argued that a site survey is an unnecessary expense and out of proportion with the cost of cheap access points, Gibson said Proxim's resellers had demanded the site survey software deal.

"Many VARs see this as a value-added service. Site surveying isn't necessary for every customer, but we wanted to offer what we felt was a best-in-class product."

Gibson said that the switchless approach was not necessarily a low-end phenomenon. "I don't believe large-scale enterprises have moved towards wireless-aware switches. Leading suppliers like Cisco and Proxim have put more functionality and intelligence in the access point."

The software suite is available as separate components. Mobile Manager costs £1,149 for 25 access points, Avalanche the same, and Ekahau £1,899. The AP-700 costs £349, and the new software version can be downloaded free for existing customers.

Peter Judge writes for Techworld

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