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Vendors Miss the Business Boat

Wireless LAN access point vendors are falling short in efforts to tout their products as true business-class wares, according to the latest Unstrung Insider report -- 802.11 Access Points: Winning Features for Corporate Networks.

In a detailed survey of 12 leading business-class access points -- examining over 20 product criteria including price, IEEE modes (802.11 a/b/g), radio transmit-and-receive statistics, and security -- the report finds that no single vendor provides a clear and complete account of its product’s capabilities.

In light of the growing number of companies looking to install 802.11 networks on their premises, differentiating their access point products from rival offerings and articulating this to an unsuspecting enterprise customer base is critical both to vendors' own future success and to the health of the market in general (see Wireless LAN Class Wars).

Despite this catalyst for growth, report author Gabriel Brown believes vendors are failing to do themselves justice in their marketing strategies. Brown notes that, while Enterasys Networks Inc. (NYSE: ETS), Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE: HPQ), and 3Com Corp. (Nasdaq: COMS) “do a pretty good job of explaining what their access points can do, and how they can handle upgrades,” Proxim Corp. (Nasdaq: PROX) lets itself down in its product literature. “It’s unclear what you get exactly when you buy a Proxim access point, since radios, antennas, and power modules can all be purchased separately.”

The glut of switch startups invading the market also receive a ticking off (see 2005: A Switch Odyssey? and WLAN Switches Cause a Stir). “All the wireless switch startups -- Airespace Inc., Aruba Wireless Networks, Chantry Networks Inc., and Trapeze Networks Inc. -- could do a far better job of promoting their access point capabilities,” Brown laments. “The reality is that these vendors are using the most up-to-date chipsets and bringing some great innovations to wireless LAN networking.”

Even market leader Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) -- whose Aironet 1200 product is hailed as “a truly enterprise-class access point” -- still has work to do. Despite revealing more detail about its product’s capabilities than does any other enterprise-class vendor, the company fails to explain in its marketing literature how users can upgrade to new and future standards such as 802.11g or 802.11i.

Such omissions raise fears that the hardware being deployed throughout enterprises may not necessarily be of a business-class standard, a subject tackled in this month’s Unstrung poll (see Business-Class WLAN).

— Justin Springham, Senior Editor, Europe, Unstrung

The full report -- 802.11 Access Points: Winning Features for Corporate Networks -- costs $400. An annual subscription to the Insider is ordinarily $1,250, but is currently available at the special introductory price of $899. For more information, including subscription information and research examples, go to: Unstrung Insider.

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