One Console, Many Networks

Expanding its product range to encompass service providers building large municipal wireless networks, AirWave Wireless Inc. today said it is releasing the fifth generation of its flagship network-management software. The new Wireless Management Suite Version 5.0, says COO Greg Murphy, is the first program to comprehensively manage WiFi, mesh, and WiMax systems from a single integrated console.

"There's no other platform that does the management of all three types of wireless networks in an integrated fashion," asserts Murphy. "There's no other solution with a master console capable of scaling to networks with 25,000-plus devices under management."

The new software suite, which will debut at the Gartner Inc. Wireless and Mobility Summit in Grapevine, Texas, reflects the broader trend toward larger and more hybrid networks, with multiple vendors and multiple architectures and types of access points.

"In a lot of ways the wireless industry is maturing, and it's coming to resemble the wired network infrastructure business," continues Murphy. "If you're a Fortune 500 organization you've probably got multiple different [types of] products on your network, and often multiple vendors, and while the proprietary management software solutions work fine for each element, you've got to have a common monitoring management platform.

"As these networks get bigger and more diverse, there has to be an overlay system to provide consist management."

One example would be a major retailer that has one system for its corporate headquarters, another for its stores, and another for its massive distribution centers around the country. Often companies with such huge operations under one roof are installing indoor mesh networks rather than running miles of Ethernet cable.

Founded in 2000, AirWave develops management software and systems for third-party WiFi networks. The company's platform can manage networks using equipment from the major wireless LAN vendors including Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), Symbol Technologies Inc. (NYSE: SBL), and Aruba Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: ARUN). While AirWave's "corporate DNA," says Murphy, lies in selling to enterprise network builders, he expects service providers to climb from 20 percent of the company's revenue to around one-third in 2007. (See AirWave Gets French WiFi.)

"A couple of years ago there was a stark line between the service providers and enterprise wireless products," he adds. "Now we see service providers using technologies that were classic enterprise-WiFi products, and enterprises using technologies like mesh, and even starting to play around with WiMax."

Those trends have benefited AirWave, which started life in 2000 as a service provider for WiFi hotspots and rapidly shifted to building back-end tools for enterprise WLAN deployments. With lead investors including Ignition Partners, in Seattle, the private company has been venture funded to date and anticipates no need for further investment.

The new AirWave 5.0 platform also offers what the company calls "universal device support," which means the system will not only cover access points for diverse vendors but also provide a basic level of monitoring of existing infrastructure. In that way a network manager can ensure that the upstream switches and other wired elements are running properly before investigating a wireless access problem with a "deep RF search."

The AirWave platform costs around $5,000, list price, for small networks of two dozen up to a few hundred nodes. For systems with a thousand or more nodes prices start out at around $35,000.

— Richard Martin, Senior Editor, Unstrung

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