Nortel enters wireless LAN space

As part of its re-emphasis on serving the enterprise market, Nortel Networks Corp. is announcing a family of wireless LAN products Monday.

The crown jewel of the family is a switch that Anthony Bartolo, director of product wireless LAN marketing at Nortel, said facilitates passing a wireless connection on a private 802.11-based network to a public network. Bartolo said this is part of Nortel’s vision.

“Our vision for mobility is uninterrupted service — connectivity no matter where you are or where you are going,” Bartolo explained. “We’re aiming for the moon and hope to land amongst the stars.”

Leaning on its experience developing equipment for the telecom market, Nortel’s new switch — dubbed Security Switch 2250 — provides load-balancing capabilities between access points, definable access on a per-user basis, and roaming across subnets found in an enterprise campus. The switch also can detect rogue access points employees bring into work and install themselves without the enterprise’s knowledge or permission.

The release of the family is in line with Nortel’s revamped focus on the enterprise. According to Malcolm Collins, president of Nortel’s enterprise networks division, wireless is a key area of growth for the company. He explained Nortel will bring carrier-grade reliability to its wireless products, mentioning hot-swappable power supplies and built-in failover.

Collins is adamant that security is a primary focus across all of Nortel’s enterprise line of products, especially in the WLAN space.

“Security is the biggest issue in the enterprise,” Collins said. “You’ll see a whole range of wireless announcements from us this year.”

Analysts applaud Nortel’s move, but see a consolidation on the horizon, something that may or may not affect the larger Nortel.

“There are 190-plus players in this market,” said Sarah Kim, an analyst at The Yankee Group. “Soon we’ll see Enterasys and 3Com enter this market, too.”

Kim says in order for Nortel to catch market leader Cisco, the company must be committed to the market. Nortel’s relative lateness to the wireless game, albeit late, it is well-positioned given its large size. Kim noted Nortel’s emphasis on security is a good move.

“I’m happy they called their switch a ‘security switch,’ ” Kim explained. “Others call theirs a ‘wireless switch.’ You can’t switch air.”

Monday’s announcement also includes an access point (Access Point 2200), a card bus adapter that supports 802.11a and 802.11b (Mobile Adapter 2201), and an application that supports wireless IP telephony calls from a pocket PC (Mobile Voice Client i2050).

The Security Switch 2250 supports as many as 500 concurrent users and provides 200 mbps of encrypted throughput. The switch will be available June 30 and will sell for between US$6,000 and $7,000.

The Access Point 2200 is dual mode (802.11a and 802.11b), will retail for $899, and will be generally available May 30. Both the switch and access point will support 802.11g as the standard is ratified later this year. Nortel expects new products will be released with 802.11g support.