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Juniper Unveils Wireless B-RAS

We've all heard of underwire bras. But how about a wireless B-RAS?

Juniper Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: JNPR) became the first company to announce such a product today when it took the peignoir off a new version of its E-Series broadband remote access server (B-RAS).

Sadly, and despite the monicker, the device does not now actually feature an aerial or rabbit ears. Instead, Juniper has upgraded it with some new software that allows service providers to add large numbers of distributed 802.11 wireless LAN hotspots (in hotels or airports, say) into their existing terrestrial network, and then manage and provision services over them using the scaleable B-RAS-based features they already are familiar with (see Juniper Intros WLAN System).

"Their solution enables operators to get into the wireless LAN space while coninuing to offer all of the same services they deliver on wide area networks," says Shiv Bakhshi, IDC's research manager for 3G wireless infrastructure. B-RAS products like Juniper's E-Series are installed at the edge of the network, upstream of the DSLAM, to terminate PPP sessions from the customer premises, maintain quality of service (QOS), enforce class of service (COS), provision services, and provide a central data collection point that can be used to bill customers for their network and service usage. By adding 802.11 into the mix, juniper is taking a logical step in expanding its product capabilities into the wireless world.

Others are likely to follow. "We could do that; it's something we might do," says Bert Whyte, CEO of net.com, which also makes a B-RAS device for deployment in multiservice edge networks. And analysts expect that Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) and Nokia Corp. (NYSE: NOK) will follow Juniper's lead and enter this market.

Still, not everyone is going down the same road. Sources say Trapeze Networks Inc., a startup, began life working on a carrier-class WLAN switch to target the public access market, but then switched ponies to target the enterprise market (see Trapeze’s Switch Switcheroo ).

In-Stat/MDR says the footprint of wireless hotspots grew from fewer than 2,000 locations to more than 12,000 worldwide in 2002. The research firm is expecting the market to grow this year, as major operators in Europe and the U.S. enter the market and public access networks are further built out in the Asia/Pacific region (see Hotspots Are Hot Stuff). Juniper is betting that as the public access market grows, operators will need to offer different levels of services and pricing and support much larger WLAN access point networks. Therefore, the company is thinking much bigger than most of the mom'n'pop public access hotspot networks that are currently out there. The E-Series products can support thousands of simultaneous users, boasts Mike Capuano, director of product marketing. Juniper is targeting operators -- like Cometa Networks Inc. -- that are rolling out large numbers of hotspots (see Rainbow Unveiled).

"We're talking to anyone who's doing north of a 1,000 hotspots," says Capuano.

However, although Juniper says that its E-Series product is aimed at all types of operators that want to add public access WLAN to their existing networks, it is currently difficult for the system to offer consistent authentication and billing across wireless LAN and wide-area cellular networks.

"Notebook users can log into the public WLAN using their mobile phone number and a password can be sent to their phone via SMS [text messaging]," says Capuano. "After this password is entered into the login page [served up by the SDX-300] by the user, they will then be billed on a single mobile bill." Standards bodies like the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) are currently working on methods to more seamlessly integrate the different network types, he adds.

— Dan Jones, Senior Editor, Unstrung
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