N+I : WLAN Wars: Wireless products abound

The battle for the enterprise wireless LAN market continues in the run-up to the Networld+Interop conference next week, and between now and the start of N+I, seven companies are slated to introduce WLAN systems that put the management of dumb access points (AP) at the core of the network.

Chantry Networks Inc. yesterday introduced a router-based wireless LAN in a field crowded with start-ups and industry veterans pushing switched-based WLAN gear.

Boston-based Chantry believes its router- and IP-based WLAN hardware provides even better and cheaper wireless LAN management than other products on the market, since it doesn’t require wiring switches into the network, according to Peter Vicars, the company’s president. Vicars said Chantry’s router-based technology allows IT managers to control a network of thousands of its dumb APs from a central location.

Integration of the Chantry APs in a network is easy, he said, since they’re IP-based. Once hooked into the network, the Chantry AP obtains an IP address from a Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol server and can be viewed and managed like any other device with an IP address, such as a printer or a PC.

Vicars said Chantry’s pricing will depend on the scale of a company’s planned network, but prices for a complete suite of its BeaconWorks hardware — which consists of a router and APs — will cost between US$20,000 and $35,000.

A number of WLAN announcements have emerged in recent days ahead of N+I:

American Technology Research Inc. in Old Greenwich, Conn., said Cisco Systems Inc. plans to introduce a wireless voice-over-IP (VOIP) phone this summer. Albert Lin, an analyst at American, said Cisco has been showing a model of its WLAN VOIP phone to channel partners and plans to introduce it in June. Cisco declined to discuss whether it plans to introduce switch-based WLAN hardware.

Linda Horiuchi, a Cisco spokeswoman, acknowledged that the company has shown a VOIP phone to channel partners but did not indicate when or if the company plans to ship it.

Bandspeed Inc. in Austin yesterday debuted a system that incorporates switching at APs rather than at the edge of the network. The company claimed that its smart antenna design will boost range for outdoor systems to roughly 1.86 miles and will offer triple the indoor range of conventional indoor systems. Unlike San Francisco-based Vivato Inc., which introduced smart antenna technology last year that promises a 4-mile range and has focused on end users, Bandspeed plans to sell its technology to WLAN hardware manufacturers, according to Blaine Kohl, the company’s vice president of marketing. Kohl said Bandspeed already has some manufacturers evaluating its technology but declined to identify them.

Aruba Wireless Networks in San Jose, which unveiled its switch-based architecture last year, followed up this week with pricing and delivery schedules. Pankaj Manglik, Aruba’s CEO, said pricing for the company’s Aruba 5000 base station starts at $16,995, with shipping set for June. The Aruba 5000 comes with 24, 48 or 72 10/100 Ethernet user ports, with each port supporting one AP. Aruba’s dumb access point will sell for $200 and will also ship in June.

Not everyone is ready to try the latest and greatest wireless offerings. Despite the coming wealth of new technology, Dave Salmon, program manager for information services at United Parcel Service Inc. in Atlanta, said he plans to stick with his traditional WLAN gear from Symbol Technologies Inc. in Holtsville, N.Y.

UPS is in the midst of installing WLANs at its hubs worldwide, Salzman said, adding, “We are quite comfortable with the infrastructure we have selected.”