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Optical/IP

Extreme Hatches Switch Surprise

Extreme Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: EXTR) is about to make a surprise entrance into the 802.11 wireless LAN switch market, Unstrung has learned. Extreme is also said to be working on a new set of high-speed Ethernet products for core networks, including what could be the industry's first 40-Gbit/s Ethernet product. These rumors were confirmed by multiple industry sources, all of whom requested anonymity.

The company is expected to make an official announcement of its 802.11 wireless LAN products in late April or early May, around the time of the NetWorld+Interop trade show in Las Vegas. That event is expected to provide a venue for a blizzard of 802.11 announcements from startup vendors, including Airespace Inc., Aruba Networks Inc., Trapeze Networks Inc. and Vivato Inc., among others.

Extreme’s wireless products are being developed by a "stealth department" within the company. Even other employees at Extreme have been kept in the dark about its activities, sources say.

The department is being headed by one Vipin Jain. Although not listed on Extreme’s Website or in its directory, Jain has been working in stealth mode as VP and general manager for Extreme’s "LAN Access Business" for over a year, Unstrung has learned. Prior to that, he was cofounder of Telseon Inc., an ill-fated metro Ethernet service provider (see OnFiber Takes Over Telseon).

Jain also is a well-known Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Inc. (IEEE) maven and inventor of the IEEE 802.1x authentication protocol used in wireline and wireless Ethernet networks. He could not be reached for comment on this article.

Details of Extreme’s 802.11 wireless product are fuzzy, but most sources agree that it is an 802.11 "switch" – basically, an Ethernet hub or switch that can be used to link up, manage, and apply security and QOS policies to wireless LAN access points sprinkled across an enterprise. (For more on the debate over what exactly comprises a wireless LAN switch, see Vivato's Switch Bitch.) Extreme’s product "emphasizes security and management," says one source close the company.

Extreme is not the only incumbent systems vendor moving into the crowded 802.11 space, which is both big (see WLAN Worth $1.6B in 2002) and busy (see WLAN Switch Shakeout Looms?). This week Nortel Networks Corp. announced a "security switch," which is expected to ship in June (see Nortel Preps 'Security Switch'). Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) has not announced any plans for a WLAN switch, but observers reckon it's only a matter of time (see Cisco’s LAN Switch: Build or Buy?). Cisco has also invested in a WLAN switch startup called Bandspeed Inc., which is working on technology that enhances the range of 802.11 radios (see Startups Add to Switch Mix).

“I think that longer-term it makes sense for the incumbent switch vendors to... converge wireless and wireline switching,” says Chris Kozup, senior research analyst for global networking strategies at Meta Group Inc.. “It puts them in a better position to win overall. If I’m an IT network manager, I’m sure I’d rather go with an incumbent than a startup who’s not necessarily tried or true in my environment.”

But the trend Extreme is joining is bad news for smaller 802.11 outfits. Incumbent players entering the market have two significant advantages over startups. First, on the business side, they can sell through existing channels and to an installed customer base. Second, on the technology side, they have spent years developing management capabilities. Startups are working from scratch in both regards.

The management angle is particularly important. Part of the 802.11 switch startups' pitch is that they make management simpler by allowing access points to be administered from a single location. But what if the 802.11 switch can’t be managed by the same console that a company uses for the rest of its equipment? Network managers could end up with YAMC (yet another management console) – something of a bitter irony. Buying an 802.11 switch from an incumbent vendor eliminates this risk, because it can be managed using the same console already installed to deal with the vendor's other gear. The incumbent's 802.11 manager is then JANN (just another network node).

In addition to developing a wireless LAN offering, sources say Extreme is also working on new high-speed Ethernet products designed for installation at the core of enterprise and service provider networks. Even fewer details are available on the core products than on the 802.11 offering, and sources had no information about an availability date.

But indications are that Extreme is working not only on a new 10-Gbit/s Ethernet platform, but also a 40-Gbit/s solution. Given that there is currently no standard for 40-Gbit/s Ethernet, it's likely Extreme's new gear will invoke some inverse multiplexing smarts to combine four 10-Gbit/s Ethernet connections into what would be, for now, the ultimate in fat pipes.

Extreme's core developments are clearly part of a strategy to leapfrog its competitors, which are currently fighting it out for 10-Gbit/s Ethernet business. Extreme is facing increasingly bold competition from Cisco and Foundry in the 10-Gbit/s market -– which has of late seen several significant new product announcements, as well as rampant price cutting (see Cisco Takes On 10 GigE Competition and Force10 Slashes 10-GigE Pricing). Riverstone Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: RSTN) is expected to make its own 10-Gbit/s announcement Monday, so keep an eye out.

At least one analyst says she's not surprised to see Extreme eyeing the high-speed core switch market, but predicts challenges. "Demand for bandwidth is not going away, but we won't see much activity [in 40-gig] until the service providers shake themselves out," says Deb Mielke, managing director of Treillage Network Strategies Inc., a consultancy. She doesn't think that will happen until at least the middle of 2004.

Mielke says Extreme's position as an incumbent systems vendor may not help it in the core switch market -- at least among service providers, many of whom still view Extreme as an enterprise play despite its carrier contracts. Indeed, she thinks Extreme risks competition from emerging core startups promising 40-Gbit/s wares, such as PhotonEx Corp. (Providing, of course, the startups survive long enough to compete – see What's Cookin' at Core Startups?)

Extreme could use the financial and market share boosts that sales of new 802.11 and 10/40-Gbit/s technologies would provide. It recently has reported slower demand and falling revenue from sales of its enterprise products, and it’s rumored to be getting set to terminate its content switch line after poor sales (see In Search of... Enterprise Rebound and Extreme to Dump Layer 4-7 Switching?). Expanding its product lines outward (to the edge of enterprise networks) and inward (to the core of enterprise and service provider networks) gives it two ways in which to rally.

— Dan Jones, Senior Editor, Unstrung and Mary Jander, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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wap545 12/5/2012 | 12:09:25 AM
re: Extreme Hatches Switch Surprise Some of the dream or Wireless utopia will be possible with the right type antenna (ie Phase Array or beam steering) and some of the new products that will come out of the 802.16a committee. Forgetting the Spectrum (selection of 802.11b was a good universal first step) issue for a moment:The impact the Vivato system design or approach will have on this Broadband Wireless Space will be totally disruptive if for no other reason the Business Model they present allows a Service provider to eliminate the single biggest hit in costing out a competitive service and that is the Customer/Subscriber access device is provided by user and does not require any install/support. Plus it opens up the Fixed market to include a Portable capability which is where the real money will be made in this broadband Wireless Market. Mobile Narrowband services (universal coverage) will be handle well enough by the existing carriers planned 3G networks that will fill in the gaps the Wireless LANs decide to ignore. We already have hand off capabilities between GPRS and WiFi systems being introduced.

Jim

dbeberman 12/5/2012 | 12:13:37 AM
re: Extreme Hatches Switch Surprise If UWB is able to operate in 15 channels, that will be very helpful. I am unaware of that capability at this time. 500 Mhz wide channels using UWB sound promising. My understanding was that bandlimiting UWB was extremely difficult to do. I haven't looked at it in depth in the last 18 - 24 months. Advances may (will) have occured.

The concept of simultaneous operation of UWB with spread spectrum, OFDM, or others, in the low power range of wireless LAN is something that I remain
skeptical about. Power is still power. If you increase the background noise floor intentionally with UWB, it will impact the performance of every other modulation scheme in my opinion. I'm only a guy that thinks in terms of looking at signals on
a spectrum analyzer, not an expert in all the different modulation techniques.
I certainly agree that with narrowband systems
like analog voice transmission, UWB will have near zero effect. On other technologies, I would like
to see the math that matches the claims.

If UWB can successfully notch out the current bands for 802.11, that doesn't make UWB any more efficient, it just means that 802.11 will continue to operate where it its. It seems wasteful to me to allow UWB to have everything else. I do understand the concept of dynamic frequency allocation, and perhaps the idea is that all the devices using different modulation schemes cooperatively figure out what bands each should use for optimal frequency use. It is beyond my imagination how such a thing might be managed, or enforced by the FCC and similar regulatory bodies.

Does UWB have a future as one of the modulation techniques, I would think the answer is definitely yes. Every technology has found its place historically. I'm not sure where UWB will find
its fit. I still hold to the idea that it
won't deliver the same density of bits per second per frequency that other technology does. Whether that is a critical factor in the long run remains to be seen.

It may turn out that UWB has superior battery life performance, or better coverage, or a host of other parameters that make it a winner.

jacksullivan66 12/5/2012 | 12:13:51 AM
re: Extreme Hatches Switch Surprise Although I optimistically anticipate UWB to replace nearly every current Bluetooth application within the 3-5 year timeframe, I agree with you that some form of 802.11 (either g, or combo a/b) will continue to be successful for intermediate range, in-building applications (which is where I'm drawing the comparison)...

Technically speaking, UWB actually operates in 7.5Ghz of spectrum, and the proposed "multi-band" approach being considered within the IEEE 802.15.3a TG will likely carve up that spectrum into 500Mhz bands (roughly 15 of them)... So whereas 802.11a has 8 channels, UWB potentially has up to 15 at it's disposal. With this technique, any potential interference can also be avoided by simply notching out one of the 500 Mhz bands where interference would likely occur (say in the lower 5Ghz band where 802.11a currently operates).

This type of technical architecture would support your conclusion of "both technologies winning" in the shortterm. As a result, we'll likely see multi-mode devices being shipped with 802.11/UWB just as they are currently being shipped with 802.11/Bluetooth.

From an efficiency perspective, I'm not an engineer, but I can't imagine a "more" spectrally efficient technology than UWB. Everything that has been operating in the 3.1Ghz-10.6Ghz range can still operate just as before. But now you have the benefit of an high-performance, unlicensed technology operating in the same frequencies, with individual UWB bands intelligently notched out to ensure there is no interference with existing services operating in the same geographic area. That sounds spectrally efficient to me... ;)
dbeberman 12/5/2012 | 12:15:07 AM
re: Extreme Hatches Switch Surprise If I understand UWB correctly, it spreads over a very wide range say 2 Ghz. Right now, if you took the 160 Mhz roughly that 802.11a occupies, the raw data rate total is 8 * 54 = 432 Mbps.
If the data rate increases to 108 Mbps. per channel, thats 864. Since this is only 160 Mhz, as the technology is adopted, if say another 160Mhz is added, then the bandwidth is 1.7 Gbps.

I fully believe that UWB will probably reach the speeds you are talking about eventually. My question is, is it an efficient use of the spectrum for data communications?

Also, if it isn't, and it interferes with other technologies like 802.11, will this be a workable situation?

If it turns out that UWB can offer another .5 Gbps., without interfering with other efficient modulation techniques (OFDM, DSSS, etc.), then it should be a successful technology. As I understand it, this is UWB is supposed to be virtually undectable to other technologies. If this proves true, then this is not an either-or case, but a case of both technologies winning.

David Beberman
jacksullivan66 12/5/2012 | 12:15:14 AM
re: Extreme Hatches Switch Surprise Even though you got the company wrong both times, Illongot (it's Xtreme Spectrum, not Extreme Networks, or Xstream?), at least you were hinting at the right subject...

Who out there doesn't think Bluetooth is complete toast (not that it wasn't heading that way already). Let's see:
Bluetooth = low power, small form factor, low cost, 10M range, and roughly 1Mb/s throughput.
UWB = lower power, smaller form factor, low cost, 10M range, and roughly 100Mb/s throughput.

And that's only in first generation silicon!

Several PHY manufs will likely announce by the beginning of next year 2nd Gen silicon at roughly 480Mb/s, and the IEEE 802.15.3a standard (on track for a final draft status by Nov of this year) has a silicon roadmap that includes throughput to 1Gb/s.

The question is, why are people only talking about UWB as a consumer device / home networking play? Are you kidding me? UWB at 480Mb/s replaces not just USB1.1, but USB2.0 (which is just coming out)! As a matter of fact, there isn't a cable on most users desktops that will achieve that rate of throughput, even with the cost and hastle of a physical wire.

If Intel has their way, expect an all CMOS UWB radio on the corner of every pentium die they produce by the end of the decade. In that world, all in-building short and intermediate range communication will occur over UWB...

802.11? Relegated to 2nd class status because it just can't stack up to UWB in short and intermediate ranges...
Illongot 12/5/2012 | 12:17:00 AM
re: Extreme Hatches Switch Surprise My mistake...had a collegue point out that I was thinking of Xtream not Extream...sorry cisco etal.

Illongot
Illongot 12/5/2012 | 12:17:02 AM
re: Extreme Hatches Switch Surprise Perhaps y'all missed the point of the article...Xtream going into the WiFi market simply gives them a strategic way to "cross the chasm" and gain a foot hold in the consumer market where UBW has its ultimate potential.

Go ahead and put your head in the sand and think that this is all about the 802.11 market and ignore/dismiss the competition.

IF/WHEN the FCC breaks down and goes against the all powerful Wireless Operators wishes and lifts the restrictions on the power cap on UWB...Cisco will have to pay a hefty sum for Xtream's or Time Domains' IP.

PS. Note that the FCC has already opened more 'free spectrum' for the 802.11g / 5.8Ghz market much to the chagrin of those that paid billions for spectrum rights and invested heavily in 3G, and there is no reason to think that they will not do the same in UWB
see: http://www.wirelessweek.com/in...
deepciscothroat 12/5/2012 | 12:17:32 AM
re: Extreme Hatches Switch Surprise Hey Airbb
who's buying your products baby?

deepciscothroat 12/5/2012 | 12:17:32 AM
re: Extreme Hatches Switch Surprise So CEO of some weird company is selling his products on the message boards. How creative. Like that GO experiment with Jerry Kaplan

- $75M down the drain and all we got was a stupid book that blamed the GO fiasco on everyone else.

Corporatewavenet (great name?) is toast
airbb 12/5/2012 | 12:17:39 AM
re: Extreme Hatches Switch Surprise "But the trend Extreme is joining is bad news for smaller 802.11 outfits. Incumbent players entering the market have two significant advantages over startups. First, on the business side, they can sell through existing channels and to an installed customer base. Second, on the technology side, they have spent years developing management capabilities. Startups are working from scratch in both regards."

Obviously, the author never worked in one of these companies.

- How did Extreme come to existance?
- Why didn't Cisco prevent all other successful startups?
- Why does Cisco keep buying other startups for the technologies?


Incumbent players entering this market have five significant disadvantages over startups.

1. Company lost touch with the market change
2. Managements are not taking risks
3. Engineers not motivated to be creative
4. Product development cycle is unreal
5. Product and R&D costs are too high

Virtually, every successful technologies that we enjoy today are started by startups, i.e. PC, Internet(or was it Al Gore?), IP, ATM, DSL, TiVo and WLAN AP.

More realistic statement maybe "Incumbent players will buy the successful startups and sell it to the massive markets.

If you don't believe me, just ask ciscowireless.


AirBB


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