Startup unveils WLAN router

Just when you thought you were starting to get a handle on wireless LAN (WLAN) switches, a new company introduces a WLAN router.

BeaconWorks, from Chantry Networks Inc., is a Layer 3 router that uses a proprietary protocol to tunnel over the wired IP network to connect to a flock of companion access points.

As a router, the box can bypass failed nodes and find new pathways to keep a network up and running. Company officials say BeaconWorks will be able to move users automatically between WLANs and wide-area cellular networks without breaking their applications or forcing a new logon.

BeaconWorks consists of the BeaconMaster router and attendant BeaconPoints, which are streamlined wireless access points.

“When mobile users connect, they are assigned an IP address on a subnet managed by the BeaconMaster,” says Bob Myers, CTO for Chantry. “BeaconMaster can then provide the routing. We support an array of routing protocols. A BeaconMaster can support hundreds of BeaconPoints and several thousand mobile users. We can handle the whole address space for the [enterprise] customer.”

The spate of recently announced LAN switches from the likes of Aruba Wireless Networks Inc. and Trapeze Networks Inc. tend to focus more on Layer 2 switching features, with additional Layer 3 features such as quality of service. Most but not all of these devices are designed for wiring closets. Chantry’s is built for the data centre or network operations centre.

The router is being tested at Cornell University, which has 450 buildings on a sprawling 750-acre campus in Ithaca, N.Y. “You’d need more than one wireless switch for every building [based on a wiring closet approach],” Myers says. “[But] they can put out about 20 or 30 of our BeaconMasters right in the data centre, where the network operations people are.”

Chantry engineers designed a protocol that lets the BeaconPoints communicate with the routers over an IP network. “Mobile users connect to the access point and can roam to any other BeaconPoint in the network and maintain the same IP address,” Myers says.

Aruba does something similar by using the familiar Generic Routing Encapsulation protocol, a technique that also lets the Aruba switch be installed in a data centre. But Myers says that Chantry also has added a management protocol as part of the interaction between access point and router. “We can control the individual user at the 802.11 layer [because] we understand all those events at the BeaconMaster,” he says.

The BeaconPoints can be distributed over a campus and managed remotely by the router. There is an 802.11b, 11Mbps version of the access point. Another version can house an 802.11a, 54Mbps radio and either an 802.11b or an 802.11g radio.

Both devices are schedule to ship in July. The access points will cost about US$500. The BeaconMaster router will cost from US$25,000 to US$30,000, depending on the configuration selected.