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Symbol's Cisco Killer?

Switch or network appliance? Either way, Symbol's low-cost WLAN box aims to 'kill Cisco'

September 10, 2002

3 Min Read
Symbol's Cisco Killer?

Symbol Technologies Inc. is attempting to make a bigger splash in the enterprise wireless LAN market, taking on major rival Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) and a host of startups with a new box that promises to halve the cost of installing a corporate WLAN (see Symbol Unwraps Mobius).

Symbol refers to its new "Mobius" box as a switch, because it processes and assigns packets on an 802.11 network. IDC enterprise networks analyst Jason Smolek says he thinks of Mobius as a network appliance because of the way it can be used to apply different service levels and security features for different users.

"It's actually not a switched architecture," Smolek says. "You're not getting the full T1." [Ed. note: it's the nature of the wireless beast -- unless you're the only user on the system, you're always going to be sharing some bandwidth with other people.]Whatever you want to call it, Mobius is essentially the brains of the organization. What Symbol has done is take the tasks that would usually be handled by management software at the access point -- authentication, bandwidth assignment, access rights management -- and shunt them to a central node that connects to the "dumb" access points via Ethernet cabling.

The advantage of doing it this way, according to Ray Martino, VP of wireless products at Symbol, is twofold. First, it is easier to upgrade to new wireless standards when they arrive, because they can be applied to the little Linux box that sits in the corporate wiring closet, rather than having to "rip and replace" old access points.

Second, removing the "brain" of an access point means it can be made much more cheaply, which is just what Symbol has done. It says that the new 802.11a/b/g Mobius access points are $200 apiece, compared to the $600 or more ticket price that most enterprise-oriented access points pull in.

Martino reckons that setting up a network of ten conventional access points with all the associated software would cost more than $11,000. With Mobius, Martino says that cost of installation could be cut to under $5,000 and that a corporation's total cost of ownership would be greatly reduced, as it would not be ripping out access points with every new upgrade.

It's pretty clear what Symbol is going after with Mobius. "We're going to kill Cisco with this," Martino says. It's not the first time that Symbol has aggressively gone after Cisco's treasures. Earlier this year Cisco heir apparent Bill Nuti, then senior vice president of worldwide service provider operations, jumped ship to become president and COO of Symbol (see Cisco's Nuti Moves to Symbol).

What does Cisco think of all this? "Cisco doesn't comment on a competitor's product launch," said a Cisco spokesperson.

IDC's Smolek agrees that the Mobius setup is significantly cheaper than anything Cisco has to offer. However, he figures the networking giant will be able to utilize its global reach to stave off any ill effects from the rival offering.

Cisco, Smolek notes, is tapping into the heavy growth markets for wireless LAN –- Asia and Europe –- in a way in which Symbol can't, because Symbol is largely limited to a North American sales base.

However, Smolek does wonder where Symbol's product will leave startups like Vernier Networks Inc. and ReefEdge Inc., which sell products that offer similar functionality but cost more.

"People will go to one or two suppliers," he says.

— Dan Jones, Senior Editor, Unstrung

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