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AirWave Gets French WiFi

Moving further into the service provider market, WiFi-management software supplier AirWave Wireless Inc. said today it will provide management and security for wireless networks at seven French airports, including Paris's Charles de Gaulle and Orly, plus about three dozen hotels and two exhibition centers in the French capital. Installed and operated by French operator Hub télécom , the networks comprise more than 1,600 access points in total, including equipment from Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) and Symbol Technologies Inc. (NYSE: SBL).

The French deployment, says AirWave COO Greg Murphy, represents a larger trend in the wireless-network business, from smaller, single-vendor systems to large-scale networks with multiple vendors and varying topologies.

"What we've seen is these wireless networks getting bigger and bigger, so we've focused on scaleability -- some of our customers have north of 15,000 APs on their network," Murphy explains. "At the same time we're seeing more multi-vendor deployments, so we've focused on building our software so it can manage networks with APs or controllers from Cisco, Symbol, or whoever."

Founded in 2000, AirWave develops overall management software and systems for third-party WiFi networks. The AirWave Management Platform can manage networks using equipment from other vendors including Cisco, Symbol, and Aruba Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: ARUN).

A part of the Aéroports de Paris group, Hub provides 150,000 airport, hotel, and convention center employees with wired and wireless network access. The AirWave deal also includes Avirnet, AirWave's distribution partner in France. In addition to serving workers at the various sites, the WiFi networks will also be designed for public access. The deal is not among AirWave's largest projects in terms of number of APs, but it is among the most geographically dispersed set of networks the company has taken on.

"When our network engineers need to diagnose a network problem reported by a user in Paris-Charles de Gaulle airport," says Luc Vanacker, an executive with Hub, in a statement, "they can gather all the information they need remotely, with just a few mouseclicks."

AirWave also supplies management platforms for wireless networks in U.S. airports, including Denver International.

The shift toward more complex, heterogenous networks is a natural result of the maturing of the market for WiFi technology, particularly in service-provider deployments, Murphy says. While many hardware providers, such as Cisco, offer management solutions along with their infrastructure packages, service providers must often operate in more complicated environments.

"With service providers in particular, they're very likely to have multi-vendor networks," Murphy remarks. "They're often in a situation where they have to inherit whatever the customer has on premises, so it's very common to see multiple vendors and multiple architectures."

At the same time, enterprises are more and more faced with upgrading legacy systems without tearing out existing infrastructures.

"As wireless technology gets more mature, the number of pure greenfield environments just naturally gets fewer and fewer," Murphy points out. Adapting to this multi-generational reality, last summer AirWave and Aruba teamed up to offer enterprise users a combined system aimed at helping them control older "thick" access points as part of a managed WiFi network. (See Airwave & Aruba Look to Legacy.)

In early 2007 AirWave will bring out the newest version of its core management product, which will offer management and support for WiMax networks.

"We're seeing a lot more service-provider customers who are planning WiMax rollouts," says Murphy, "and they face the same issues that enterprises were having a couple of years ago. It's one thing to build out a network and get it running, but it's quite another to figure out what you need to do when users call up and say, 'The network is slow, I can't get on, what do I do now?' "

— Richard Martin, Senior Editor, Unstrung

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