WLAN Switches Cause a Stir

Unstrung Webinar reflects plenty of interest... and plenty of contoversy

May 16, 2003

3 Min Read
WLAN Switches Cause a Stir

If a recent Unstrung Webinar on wireless LAN switches is anything to go by, the technology is not only very hot but also very controversial.

A record 1,297 people registered for the May 7 Webinar -- “802.11 Switches: Adding Brains to Wireless LANs” -- and the panelists crossed swords on plenty of issues.

The discussion was led by Yours Truly (Gabriel Brown), and the speakers were:

The Webinar is archived on the Unstrung Website and can be viewed by clicking on this link. Key issues include:

How to regard WLAN switches

Extreme’s Roy says they’re no more than a logical evolution for wired Ethernet access technology -- a view backed by Trapeze’s Banic, who added: “The wireless switch should let you treat air just like wire.”

Symbol’s Singh, however, argued that customers that differentiate wireless LANs from the rest of network, tend to achieve better return on investment. "Extension of the network is only part of the equation -- it's the base function," he said. You still need enhanced mobility and security services.

O’Dea from Spirent also pointed to a major difference between the wired and wireless LAN -- that IT managers are not generally familiar with radio technology. He warned that the quality of the Radio Frequency media can vary over time because of multipath interference and noise.

Where to install WLAN switches

Opinions also differed on where wireless switches should be located -- in the core of the network in the corporate data center, or at the edge of the network in the office wiring closet.

The advantage of the core switch architecture is that it runs as an overlay on the existing network and provides more centralized management, according to Singh. “The net result is a much greater degree of control and capability in provisioning mobility services to the end users."

Roy, however, doesn’t believe in overlay networks. “Keeping the intelligence in the wiring closet does not mean that you’re sacrificing centralized roaming intelligence, you are just making it distributed, just like today’s networking environment,” he argued.

The business case for WLAN switches

One point that all the vendors did agree upon was that a switched architecture is much cheaper than a traditional, “fat” access point network, where the intelligence is distributed right out to the access point itself on the very edge of the network.

“What’s great about the switch architecture is that you can actually do a good cost-benefit study,” said Singh. “In an apples-to-apples comparison that reduces the wireless switch capabilities to that of an access point, then the cut-over point [when it's cheaper to deploy a switch] is about five or six access points.”

According to Roy, “You should expect just about a 10 percent to 15 percent increase on the price of a normal wiring closet switch. The cost barrier to wireless switches is not that high.”

Trapeze's Banic added that IT managers need to look "beyond the price of the switch and consider what size of network you’d need to build, and look at the total cost of ownership.”

— Gabriel Brown, Research Analyst, Unstrung

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