Optical/IP Networks

Product Roundup: WiFi Strikes Back

Wireless LAN strikes back in this week's 802.11-packed tech product roundup. There's everything from a new fixed/mobile convergence system from Siemens AG (NYSE: SI; Frankfurt: SIE) to an attempt to reinvent the hotspot for WiFi phone users. Along the way we'll take in new products and upgrades from Aruba Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: ARUN) and Trapeze Networks Inc. as well.

Suited 'n' booted convergence: Siemens' Chantry WiFi unit is claiming a first in the fixed/mobile convergence market -- a complete FMC system for enterprises that allows them to keep control of users roaming between WLAN and cellular networks. This is similar to what's already touted by startups such as DiVitas Networks Inc. , but the German networking vendor says it's the first to offer a complete package of client software, devices, and appliance.

The Siemens HiPath Mobile Connect system uses SIP (Session Initiation Protocol) software at its core and supports WiFi-to-GSM cellular roaming. Two handsets are currently available that can be used with the system -- the Nokia Corp. (NYSE: NOK) handset and the Fujitsu Siemens Computers LOOX device. The company is working on more device and carrier partnerships.

Siemens is looking at the system as a productivity booster as much as a money saver. The system is set up so that a user has one number no matter what network he or she is logged onto, and the system decides how to route calls depending on where the user is situated. The FMC system starts at $6,000 for 10 users.

NextSpot: Ruckus Wireless Inc. is trying to push its latest product -- the MediaFlex Hotspot -- as a device that provides public WiFi access, since a lot more people are using VOIP phones and requiring better coverage from access points.

"You can't trust public WiFi service," says Ruckus's CEO Selina Lo, noting that in her experience it is "patchy" at best. The firm is incorporating its smart antenna technology into an access point for hotspot applications in a bid to improve current WiFi services.

Enterprise-class APs only support 8 to 12 voice calls today, but Ruckus says its new AP will be able to handle call loads that would typically tax several ordinary APs.

Ruckus is betting people will pay carriers for WiFi services if the quality improves. "Users will be willing to pay for WiFi access, just as we pay for broadband access now as part of our monthly bill," says Lo, predicting that its APs will become "part of mainstream telecom infrastructure."

Scaleability rules: In its latest bid to keep updating its operating system to compete with Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) and others in the enterprise WLAN market, Aruba is emphasizing the benefits of being large.

The thinking behind the ArubaOS 3.1 upgrade (incidentally, there was no 3.0) is that as companies build out WiFi networks they will need to be able to define who gets access to what services across a lot more access points. "These networks are getting larger and more complex all the time," notes Aruba product manager Jon Green.

The new Aruba OS lets managers in a large network apply different sets of policies more easily on different parts of the network.

Location safety net: Meanwhile, Trapeze is following Aruba, Cisco, and others into the WiFi location market with its new LA-200 appliance. Wireless LAN is increasingly being used in healthcare and other markets to keep tabs on expensive items. All the current appliances use signal strength readings and triangulation to determine the position of the tags in a WiFi network to within a few meters.

Trapeze claims that its appliance is one of the most accurate yet, with 99 percent accuracy at locating tags within ten meters. The LA-200 is shipping now at a list price of $14,995. — Dan Jones, Site Editor, Unstrung

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