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WLAN's Business Bullies

The wireless LAN vendor community has been sent a stark warning with the latest Unstrung poll: When it comes to installing 802.11 networks within enterprises, customers won’t be satisfied with anything less than business-class equipment (see Business-Class WLAN).

In light of 802.11’s roots as a home networking technology, it isn’t surprising to see some companies selling consumer-oriented products to enterprise customers on the cheap (see VARs Shop for Wireless and Wireless LAN Class Wars). But business users are now fighting back.

In fact, the majority of respondents are demanding maximum security from their enterprise kit. 52 percent won't be happy unless their gear includes “a VPN, AES, Cisco’s LEAP, Microsoft's PEAP, and any other security available.”

In response to whether readers would spend more on an access point that has management interfaces -- so that it can "talk" to the existing wired network -- 43 percent nod their e-heads in agreement, but claim that “current interfaces aren’t sophisticated enough,” demanding even more control over their access points.

There is also mixed feeling over whether the newfangled wireless LAN switches and skinny access points crowding the market are actually up to the task in hand. Forty-eight percent of respondents believe that products now available are less than adequate due to inevitable upgrades needed "a year or so down the line," while 52 percent counter that the equipment is up to scratch and ready to face future challenges.

In all, the results reinforce misgivings derived from Unstrung Insider's latest report -- 802.11 Access Points: Winning Features for Corporate Networks -- that vendors are falling short in the marketing of their products as true business-class wares (see Vendors Miss the Business Boat).

One area in particular that the likes of Cisco, Proxim Corp. (Nasdaq: PROX), and friends need to improve upon is educating the masses as to the critical role of plenum ratings, a feature that distinguishes an enterprise-class wireless access point from a namby-pamby consumer product.

Plenum rating measures an access point’s conformity to the U.S. National Electrical Code “UL 2043” specification, one of the regulations designed to reduce fire hazards from electrical equipment in offices, schools, factories, and other buildings. Like all computer or electrical cable, wireless access points installed in the plenum air space should be plenum rated, which means that should the equipment catch fire it will not emit toxic gases [ed. note: so kind of important, yeah?].

Despite their key status, more than a third of respondents (36 percent) wouldn’t recognize a plenum rating if it smacked them on the nose, and a further 32 percent consider it a subject unworthy of any attention. The local fire crew may beg to differ...

Moving on, this month’s poll continues to travel aboard the wireless LAN bandwagon, examining the real potential of voice over wireless LAN technology. Have your say at Voice Over Wireless LAN – A Heavenly Union?.

— Justin Springham, Senior Editor, Europe, Unstrung

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