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Optical/IP

Symbol Branches Out

Symbol Technologies Inc. (NYSE: SBL) has ramped up its assault on the crowded 802.11 switch market -- a move it says is critical to its future success in the wireless LAN space (see Symbol Touts WLAN Switch).

As expected, the vendor has unveiled a scaled-down version of the WS5000 switch, its original product traditionally aimed at the large enterprise market (see Keeeeeeeerash! ). Today’s WS2000 launch sees the firm target the SME (Small and Medium sized Enterprise) branch office sector in an attempt to boost company fortunes.

Despite being recognised as the wireless LAN switch pioneer and the number two enterprise 802.11 equipment provider by market share (after Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO)), the company’s products have failed to win customer mindshare as easily as some of the new entrants (see 802.11 Kit Sales: Ka-Ching! and WLAN Switches Cause a Stir).

Symbol fared poorly in a recent Heavy Reading survey rating brand recognition in the 802.11 switch sector, coming in below Nortel Networks Corp. (NYSE/Toronto: NT), Extreme Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: EXTR) and Foundry Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: FDRY), despite introducing the WS5000 months before the others started to ship products (see Perception Is Everything).

The company has also suffered from a string of regulatory problems and management changes (see Symbol CEO Falls on Sword).

Symbol is hardly downplaying the importance of the launch. “We can tell you that our 2004 plan is dependent on the success of this product,” says Gary Singh, senior director, marketing, wireless infrastructure division. “We have very high revenue goals for this product as we go forward.”

The firm, which pioneered the concept of stripped down “lightweight” access points controlled via a central switch, claims the new switch tackles the technical and cost challenges faced by smaller enterprises.

“The problem is that the proliferation of wireless LAN technology on a large scale into branch offices is just not happening because branch offices do not have enterprise budgets that can handle the cost structure of the technology today,” argues Singh. "That is what we are really trying to address here.”

Singh claims the "one-box" product boasts a 52 percent cost saving over traditional "access point architecture."

"The total branch office traditional solution was $2,300 to $4,200. Net saving is about $1,200 to $2,900, and roughly as a percentage it is a 52% saving that you will get with this technology, as a bare minimum."

Analysts believe today's move is in keeping with the vendor's attempts to focus efforts on its new wireless strategy. “It goes in tandem with a repositioning and rebranding of their wireless LAN products,” comments Richard Webb, directing analyst for wireless LANs at Infonetics Research Inc.. “They are not so well positioned in the office environment and that is where they are trying to move towards.”

“It’s like a smaller version of the big switch and has the same functionality,” adds Webb. “It follows on from moves by some of the startups -- Airespace and Aruba, for example. There appears to be a pattern emerging here and I would expect other vendors to follow suit” (see Aruba Unveils 2400 Switch and Airespace Gets Remote).

— Justin Springham, Senior Editor, Europe, Unstrung

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