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AirFlow's WLAN Switch Packs a Big MAC

Another startup has emerged with a wireless LAN "switch" architecture aimed at simplifying deployment of corporate 802.11 networks.

This time it's AirFlow Networks, a Mountain View, Calif.-based startup that is backed by VC firm Bay Partners.

Wireless LAN switches are a new class of device that sits in the wiring closet, between the management console and the wireless access points dotted around the office space. The switch and the access point are connected via Ethernet cabling. The switch handles tasks like prioritization of available bandwidth, data encryption, and user authentication on the wireless network.



Companies working on these types of products include Symbol Technologies Inc. (NYSE: SBL) (see Symbol's Cisco Killer?), Aruba Networks Inc. and Trapeze Networks Inc. (see Trapeze's Wireless Bait & Switch).

AirFlow is combining wireless LAN "switching" with a wired Ethernet switch in a single box. In fact, the company does not even describe its AirSwitch product as a wireless switch, but simply as a switch.

"We think that the Ethernet switching market has become stagnant," the company's founder, Harry Bims, told Unstrung. "We're the next generation of Ethernet switching."

The company says that AirSwitch provides "standard Layer 3 Ethernet switch features." But it's likely to be the wireless capabilities of the switch, and the specially-developed access points (AP) that connect to that switch, that will get people talking.

Like its rivals, Airflow has moved the Media Access Control (MAC) layer functionality off the wireless LAN access points and onto the switch itself. Allowing multiple access points to share a single MAC makes the network much easier to manage, because the switch provides a single point of control.

However, Bims considers the management capabilities as "fringe benefits." He says the real plus is that this approach makes the actual deployment of such nodes "plug and play." Because there’s only one MAC in the network (on the switch), the wireless transmitters in each access point act like one big wireless LAN and can share the same frequency. That’s quite different from a regular 802.11 network, where each access point would be allocated its own frequency – a tedious chore. “They co-exist on the same channel. That means you don’t have to do a lot of frequency planning, or a site survey [to check for interference and radio overlap]," he says.

Of course, it’s worth noting that the product isn’t shipping yet, so there’s no hard evidence that interference won’t be an issue. In fact, most net managers will surely want to road-test such a product before committing traffic to it.

Bims says that in addition to AirFlow's own AirScout access points, the switch can also be used with existing access points from Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) and other vendors.

Stripping all the "intelligence" out of its AirScout access point also enables it to be squeezed into a form factor around the size of a personal digital assistant (PDA). Most access points are somewhere between the size of a large lunchbox or a small laptop. Bims likes to call the tiny nodes "RF jacks."

How big the access points are may appear to be a very minor issue, but actually size does matter when you are deploying access points in corporate environments, according to Abner Germanow, wireless LAN research manager at IDC. Often, with corporate rollouts, larger wireless LAN access points are deployed in the ceiling of a building. "It’s the key to this issue," Germanow says. These companies are frequently building out systems in buildings they don't own. Do they even have the right to access the ceiling?"

AirFlow's Bims says that removing the "brain" of the access point and transferring it to a centralized switch also helps to deal with the problem of access points being stolen if they are deployed in plain view in the office. "Our design eliminates the reason for thieving, because there's no intelligence in the jack. It won't work on its own."

Bims says that AirFlow has two customers trialing the system now. He expects the products to be commercially available in the summer.

He won't disclose exactly how much seed funding Bay Partners is putting up. However, he did say that it was in the neighborhood of $10 million.

— Dan Jones, Senior Editor, Unstrung
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deepciscothroat 12/5/2012 | 12:50:43 AM
re: AirFlow's WLAN Switch Packs a Big MAC These guys announce a product 9 months before they are ready to go. Either they are naive or...
Clearly

1. They are looking for money. 1 investor with an uncertain round
2. Trying to use hype to make up for late to market
3. Crazy for taking us on in wired and wireless networking

Prediction: they die early

cw
joset01 12/5/2012 | 12:50:04 AM
re: AirFlow's WLAN Switch Packs a Big MAC Well CW,
There's a bunch more coming working on similar ideas.

Trapeze Networks
Aruba Networks
BlackStorm Networks
etc, etc.

You reckon Cisco is going to join in on this WLAN/Wired switch idea -- we haven't heard much yet, although some people are suggesting we'll see product in 9 months or so...

DJ Unstrung
wonderfull 12/5/2012 | 12:49:53 AM
re: AirFlow's WLAN Switch Packs a Big MAC DJ> You reckon Cisco is going to join in on this >WLAN/Wired switch idea -- we haven't heard much >yet, although some people are suggesting we'll >see product in 9 months or so...

Symbol toyed with the idea for years before the go ahead. Cisco has one a WLAN+Wired combo switch in works due in Q3,03.

GLW
deepciscothroat 12/5/2012 | 12:49:43 AM
re: AirFlow's WLAN Switch Packs a Big MAC Absolutely we are building one of those.
We'll have one later this year
Supervisor engine 4.3.5.
Resistance is futile. Airflow is toast
deepciscothroat 12/5/2012 | 12:49:42 AM
re: AirFlow's WLAN Switch Packs a Big MAC Absolutely we are building one of those.
We'll have one later this year
Supervisor engine 4.3.5.
Resistance is futile. Airflow is toast
airbb 12/5/2012 | 12:40:42 AM
re: AirFlow's WLAN Switch Packs a Big MAC Who in Cisco is building this?
Not Aironet people for sure.

Some venders out there who build APs and PCMCIA cards for WLAN attempt to build wireless LAN switch- Aironet(Aironet is not Cisco), Symbol and etc.

I got news for you. Microsoft wants to build routers.
deepciscothroat 12/5/2012 | 12:40:37 AM
re: AirFlow's WLAN Switch Packs a Big MAC bb:
time for a clue infusion
Aironet = Cisco
slapping some third party (teja) code on an intel processor does not make you a networking company
We own over 50% of the enterprise market. Tell me about where you are deployed

Microsoft routers: cheap and crash 10X a day. Yeah, Wall Street will be your first customer set

btw, aren't you embarassed about that web address?

cw
spc_rayella 12/5/2012 | 12:40:37 AM
re: AirFlow's WLAN Switch Packs a Big MAC So MSFT wants to build routers? That's quite a broad statement.
If you would like to add more meat to the bones, please send us an email at
[email protected]

We would love to know more!!

UnstrungRay
wifi_radio 12/5/2012 | 12:40:35 AM
re: AirFlow's WLAN Switch Packs a Big MAC ciscowireless, I believe Cisco/Aironet should come out with a better idea to enhance its product lines instead of just depending heavily on its current product. I saw a few improvements such as your virtual MACs implementation on the Aironet VLAN feature but that's it. Right now, there's no denying that Cisco is the leader in this marketspace, no question about it. But watch out for Vivato, AirGo, and Airespace. The others such as AirFlow, Aruba, Trapeze, Symbol Mobius and those similar to them are worthless - nothing just a wired switch with a standard 802.11 radio slapped to it.

Don't underestimate the Microsoft force, if Bill Gates want to join the party and take over the WLAN party - it WILL happen. They already have lots of researchers at their R&D Seattle 'evil kingdom' working to enhance 802.11 protocols on both ad-hoc and infrastructure modes. I heard the Longhorn project, which is probably hundreds of years away from now - scheduled to be released :-) will include the software AP approach. Well, be careful and cautious, ciscowireless - John Chambers may not be very happy about it if Microsoft is start taking the enterprise marketspace. BTW, i thought you guys, Cisco is already part of Microsoft' branch since you guys implemented the Active Directory, provide the best drivers for Cisco Aironet 350 products, etc.
joset01 12/5/2012 | 12:40:34 AM
re: AirFlow's WLAN Switch Packs a Big MAC Wifi wrote: "I heard the Longhorn project, which is probably hundreds of years away from now - scheduled to be released :-) will include the software AP approach. "

I've heard about this as well (see http://www.unstrung.com/docume.... Got any more info on this?

DJ Unstrung

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