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Perception Is Everything

Light Reading
LR Mobile News Analysis
Light Reading
12/9/2003
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Enthusiasm for enterprise-class wireless LAN is phenomenal, but questions about security continue to weigh on the minds of users and prospective buyers of 802.11 products, according to a first-of-its-kind market perception study from Heavy Reading, Unstrung's sister research organization.

As regular readers will be aware, Unstrung has been instrumental in nailing down what "business-class" actually means in the ever-fluid world of wireless LAN, with stories, commentary, and live and online events that have laid out the key elements crucial for corporate WLAN implementations (see Wireless LAN Class Wars and Look Before You LEAP for more).

Heavy Reading's Fall 2003 Wireless LAN Market Perception Study paints a mostly rosy picture of the state of this sector as we head into what promises to be a crucial year for the WLAN market.

The report is based on a survey of 777 buyers and users of enterprise 802.11 products who rated 73 different vendors on five key market perception criteria: name recognition, price leadership, product performance, product quality and reliability, and service and support. Surveys were taken for seven different WLAN product categories: wireless LAN switches, security and management appliances, corporate access points, secure roaming software, network sniffers, wireless LAN test equipment, and wireless LAN components.

Four-hundred forty respondents to the survey also took time out to give their opinion on the state of the WLAN market. Overall, the responses where overwhelming positive. "It’s the wave of the future," raved one happy clapper.

Other responses were more measured but still emanated positive vibrations about the potential for 802.11 in the corporate sector. “Products and security are improving, prices are dropping. The market is strong and growing,” wrote another respondent. Overall, Heavy Reading found that those who considered the market to be growing outnumbered those who called it slow to develop by a margin of nearly seven to one.

Yet there is one big issue that still gives the folks at the coal face who actually buy this equipment the heebie jeebies. Yep, you guessed it -- security is still the number one concern for corporate buyers.

"Among the specific problems facing the wireless LAN market, the one mentioned most often by far was security: 72 respondents cited security and integration issues as a current stumbling block to more widespread wireless LAN use," writes Heavy Reading. "By contrast, only 23 mentioned standards as a general problem for the wireless LAN industry, and only 18 cited performance issues as a problem in this sector." Such findings represent an interesting situation for enterprise vendors in 2004: There are a pool of buyers out that there are totally psyched by the prospects for wireless LAN in their company, but they need to be totally sure that their new network is secure.

It is an issue that will only likely be solved by vendors closely working with individual customers to help them better understand the dos and don'ts of 802.11 security for their particular system rather than pumping out flatulent assurances about security upgrades and forthcoming standards.

— Dan Jones, Senior Editor, Unstrung

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