Extreme: 802.11a has done job, even if no one uses it

In a broad announcement Monday, Extreme Networks Inc. has combined wired and wireless features on more of its switches. Launching an RF management tool, and a concurrent 802.11a/b/g access point, the company said that 802.11a will have served its purpose in the market, even if it’s never used.

“Even if 802.11a doesn’t take off, it will have done its job,” said Dennis Potter, vice-president of marketing at Extreme. The 5GHz spec is scarcely used at present, and unlikely to ever be used in SOHO products. Despite this, it is in demand on enterprise systems, Potter explained, because IT managers want them to be future-proof. 802.11a adds little to the cost of an enterprise access point — which costs three times as much as a SOHO AP for various reasons — and it reassures IT managers that the thing won’t become obsolete if 802.11a should become a requirement.

Turning to the meat of the Extreme announcement — which had been predicted back in December, “Unified Access — Extreme’s wired/wireless access architecture — is now available on stackable and modular switches,” said Potter. Previously available on the company’s stackable Summit switches, it is now, along with power over Ethernet, on the Alpine chassis switches. The Alpine switch’s own power supply can provide power to eight ports per blade — enough for a wireless network — or can have an extra power tray for jobs such as IP telephony.

RF planning is becoming an essential item for enterprise Wi-Fi, and Potter reckons it is particularly necessary for those companies that decide to go for the complexity of mixing the different range and characteristics of 802.11a and 802.11b/g. “Good RF planning is a prerequisite for 802.11a,” said Potter. It may even help it survive, we suppose.

Extreme’s “unique” RF manager can use a CAD drawing to design a wireless network, sitting access points in an office for best coverage — similar to the Ringmaster feature in Trapeze Networks Inc.’s Mobility System. “This release, you have to download configurations as a file, but in the middle of the year, we will have real-time reconfiguration,” said Potter. Detection of rogue access points has been improved, as well.

Although 802.1x authentication is coming on by leaps and bounds, many devices don’t support it — such as older systems or non-computing devices like cameras — so Extreme has added MAC-based authentication. The systems also have secure socket layer (SSL) security, to let guests go to secure login web pages.

Extreme claims its Altitude 300 wireless ports are the only a/b/g access points with detachable antennae to be certified to the Wi-Fi Alliance’s Wi-Fi protected access (WPA) security spec. The company has kept to the “thin” side of the access point debate, with APs that contain no network details and cannot be used at all without instructions from a Summit or Alpine switch: “Big customers said if anyone steals an access point, they must not have any capability to understand the network it came from,” explained Potter.

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