Symbol to Tango With Alcatel?

Speculation surrounding a potential move by Alcatel SA (NYSE: ALA; Paris: CGEP:PA) into the 802.11 switch market has recently stepped up a bit, following Symbol Technologies Inc.'s (NYSE: SBL) announced search for partnership deals.

Last month Unstrung cited sources suggesting that Alcatel has been in talks with several startups in an effort to enter the wireless LAN switch market via a partnership (see Alcatel Seeking Switch Partner?).

Arizona-based Symbol is now the latest name linked with the incumbent network supplier. According to the number crunchers at Synergy Research Group Inc., Symbol is the market leading switch vendor in terms of units shipped, having been the only player to sell products for the past three quarters (see WLAN Market Hits $2.5B). At this week’s launch of its latest switch, the vendor revealed it is looking at ways to push its WS2000 product to a wider audience (see Symbol Branches Out).

"We are going through a debate right now about whether or how we make available this kind of technology to the OEM channel,“ comments Steve Priestly, area VP and general manager. "We hope it is a significant part, or a growing part, of our channel to market, so we have got to find a way of getting this to them eventually.

“There are some key players out there that could take advantage of this -- people like Alcatel and those kinds of companies who are really driving enterprise solutions, but coming from a very different technological background. It is part of an ongoing discussion, and as we get more capable of driving this through on an OEM basis, we will."

Alcatel itself is less forthcoming on the matter, failing to return calls by press time.

Analysts believe such a deal would give Alcatel’s enterprise wireless LAN aspirations a strong boost, complementing its presence in the carrier hotspot market (see Alcatel Launches WLAN Product and Alcatel, SatWan Hotspot Madrid).

“It gives them an opportunity to play catchup very quickly, rather than develop their own technology,” comments Richard Webb, directing analyst for wireless LANs at Infonetics Research Inc. Webb believes a deal with Symbol, rather than a startup, would in theory be a stronger fit for Alcatel as “Symbol is far better ensconced in the wireless LAN switch environment than most.

“Both companies would get a pathway they didn’t necessarily have open to them. Symbol would get a much wider path into the enterprise environment than in previous times, and Alcatel would get to leapfrog into the wireless LAN switch market.”

For those of you who dozed off at tech school, a wireless LAN switch is a device that sits in the wiring closet, between the management console and the wireless access points set up around the office. The switch is connected to the access points via Ethernet cabling and handles tasks like deciding how much of the available bandwidth will be allocated to each user and which users should be allowed on the network, as well as implementing security features like data encryption.

— Justin Springham, Senior Editor, Europe, Unstrung

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