Established industry players unveil or update their 11-Mbit/sec wireless-networking systems.
Arlyn S. Powell, Jr.
The buzz around this winter's ComNet show, at least concerning enterprise wireless data, was a number-not words-and that number was 11. The first day of the show was quiet, as Washington, DC, experienced an unusually heavy snowstorm, but by the second day, business was picking up for companies introducing new 11-Mbit/sec wireless data products.
Cabletron Systems (Rochester, NH) enhanced the RoamAbout wireless local-area-network (LAN) product line it acquired along with Digital Equipment Corp.'s network product business with a new high-rate RoamAbout product for use outdoors.
According to Gary McCoy, director of wireless-product development at Cabletron, the new product provides "128-bit encryption to answer the security concerns that are common to today's wireless-network users." With 40-bit encryption, as well, the device supports the IEEE 802.11 Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP) standard.
Indoor and outdoor products
Outdoor RoamAbout also embraces the IEEE 802.11b high-rate standard, so it can offer 11 Mbits/sec of throughput. The unit contains an Ethernet port and can be powered by low- voltage DC (by plugging it into an in-building Ethernet port) or using regular AC power.
The outdoor product joins two other high-rate RoamAbout products introduced by Cabletron in the fall of 1999: the High-Rate RoamAbout PC card and the High-Rate RoamAbout Access Point for indoor use. The PC card, says Jeff Schwartz of the company's RoamAbout wireless engineering group, is a PCMCIA card that upgrades earlier RoamAbout systems operating at 2 to 11 Mbits/sec. The PC card and indoor access point are priced at $199 and $699, respectively, while the outdoor access point is priced at $1,799. All products are currently available, and, according to the manufacturer, are the least expensive 11-Mbit/sec products on the market.
Targeting mobile workers and SOHOs
3Com Corp. (Santa Clara, CA) also introduced an 11-Mbit/sec wireless LAN product at ComNet. According to Rick Bilodeau, director of marketing of 3Com's Wireless Connectivity Div., the new AirConnect product line is aimed at corporate mobile workers and the small-office/home-office markets. "We're interested in broad, horizontal business applications," he said. "AirConnect is designed for corporate wireless LANs, provisioning conference rooms and guest-worker access stations, networking remote branch offices, setting up portable networks, and establishing campuswide wireless networks."
Bilodeau offered five advantages that he thought 3Com was offering its customers with the AirConnect system. "First, it operates at up to 11 Mbits/sec," he said, "and second, it's IEEE 802.11b-compliant. Third is its simplicity. For instance, you don't need separate power to access points; they can be powered using low-voltage DC running over Ethernet cable. Its network-management software is also simple to use. The fourth benefit is a security feature, which we'll be coming out within a couple of months. And fifth, of course, is 3Com's experience in the enterprise marketplace. We've been working with many of 3Com's networking accounts in the development of this product line. We see much pent-up demand in corporate networking; we feel there's a big market here."
3Com's initial AirConnect product offering comprises wireless access points and PC cards. The access points bridge the wired network to as many as 63 wireless PCs simultaneously. Initial pricing is $1,195 per access point and $219 per PC card. An AirConnect Starter Pack, consisting of an access point and three PC cards, is being offered at a list price of $1,795. 3Com announced plans to offer an AirConnect PCI card for desktop PCs during the spring.
"There's no need to integrate AirConnect equipment if just a few sites are involved," Bilodeau added. "Wireless will become just another part of the network now. Our system can be added to an existing wired network without special integration, and it will operate seamlessly with the rest of the LAN."
AirConnect products are shipping now, according to Bilodeau. The manufacturer is working in some cases through value-added resellers (VARs), but Bilodeau stressed that a VAR certification program would be unnecessary for all but the largest installations.
Asked to clarify the recent announcement that 3Com would partner with Symbol Technologies (Holtsville, NY) in the area of wireless data, Bilodeau explained, "It's a joint-development project in which both 3Com and Symbol will use the same technology in producing an 11-Mbit/sec product. However, we're going after different markets. Symbol is more interested in the traditional vertical markets-healthcare, education, finance, warehousing, manufacturing, and retail-which are also expected to go to 11 Mbits/sec quickly."
Cabletron Systems (Rochester, NH) has announced that it is reorganizing into four independent business units. Although initially they were going to be subsidiaries of Cabletron, the ultimate goal is to form four separate, publicly traded and independent companies.The new business units include:
- Riverstone Networks, led by Romulus Pereira, which will focus exclusively on the service-provider market, delivering high-performance, application-specific infrastructures.
- Enterasys Networks, led by Henry Fiallo, which will focus on e-business infrastructures.
- Global Network Technology Services (GNTS), led by Earle Humphreys, which will focus on network consulting for large enterprises and service providers.
- Aprisma Management Technologies, led by Michael Skubisz, which will deliver infrastructure management software to service providers and enterprises.