Who Makes What: Mobile Infrastructure

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Welcome to Unstrung's Who Makes What report on wireless infrastructure. As with our Who Makes What: Mobile Devices report, released in March 2006, we present here a comprehensive list of vendors of wireless infrastructure equipment, from 802.11 access points to RFID systems to broadband wireless gear.

Half-a-decade ago, the term "wireless infrastructure" would have referred, essentially, to cellphone towers and repeaters. Beginning in 1999 with the emergence of the 802.11 wireless networking standard and its many offshoots, including WiFi, the number of different types of wireless networks, and the gear for running and managing them, has exploded. Today there are many different versions of 802.11 -- a, b, g, n, s, and so on -- as well as Bluetooth, WiMax (based on the 802.16 standard), and next-generation cellular networks such as 3G.

The wireless networking equipment market has also been propelled, over the last year, by the rapid rollout of municipal wireless mesh networks, which use intelligent access points running peer-to-peer radio networks without the need for wireline backhaul from each AP. Also in use for enterprise environments such as campuses and warehouses, wireless mesh networks have attracted both established vendors, such as Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT), and a raft of startups and young companies like Tropos Networks Inc. and Trapeze Networks Inc.

The prospect of "true" wireless broadband, running over WiMax or some other form of advanced networking technology, is also driving product rollouts from many companies -- even though the path to profitable, commercial deployments of such networks is not yet clear and the early potential is thought to reside largely in the developing world. The WiMAX Forum now has more than 360 members. According to market research firm In-Stat , the revenue from fixed broadband wireless infrastructure alone will top $1.2 billion in 2007.

In this report we focus on vendors of wireless infrastructure gear primarily for the enterprise market, although that distinction is nearly lost in spaces such as wireless mesh networks. Befitting the dispersed, rapidly evolving nature of this market, the names on our comprehensive vendor table range from the familiar -- Motorola, Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), HP Inc. (NYSE: HPQ) -- to the new or obscure: Ekahau Inc. , Cranite Systems Inc. , and Xirrus Inc.

Here is a hyperlinked table of contents for the report:

As with other initial Who Makes What reports in specific coverage areas, this report is intended in part as a marker and a starting point for discussion and amplification. We’ve done our best to identify all vendors, but we're bound to have overlooked some. So please feel free to point out omissions -- either by posting a note on the message board for this article (our preferred method) or by sending us an email. Please include "Who Makes What" and your company name in the subject field to help us find messages. We will update the report as necessary, adding product categories and names, as we receive comments from readers.

— Richard Martin, Senior Editor, and Dan Jones, Site Editor, Unstrung

Our survey of wireless infrastructure includes 802.11 hardware (access points, switches/controllers, and bridges), WiFi security boxes, voice-over-Wireless LAN hardware, RFID products, location tools, and enterprise-focused wireless mesh and broadband products.

While these separate strands of mobile enterprise hardware used to nicely fit into distinct categories, like so much else in the wireless world, these categories have since evolved and become much more fluid as vendors tend more and more to incorporate features such as VOIP support into their mainstream enterprise product lines.

At the same time, other categories -- WiFi security, for instance -- have emerged as distinct entities in their own right, since the market was shaken by the initial lack of security offered by enterprise 802.11 devices.

The wireless mesh and broadband categories may be seen as stretching the boundaries of "enterprise wireless networking" slightly. It's undeniable that the main business of mesh networking at present is in the municipal, public access space. Vendors like Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) and Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT), however, are pushing mesh for some enterprise applications. As we revisit this report in the months to come it will become clearer how much credence to give these claims.

Meanwhile, you only need to look at an operator like Towerstream Corp. (Nasdaq: TWER) to see that there is a definite market for dedicated broadband links for enterprises -- even if Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC) and friends generally talk up WiMax as a consumer play.

Here's how the categories break down, with defining characteristics for each:

802.11 Hardware:

  • Standalone local area access points that can connect multiple clients
  • Controllers -- or switches -- that manage a farm of stripped-down APs
  • Range-boosted WiFi radios that can provide links between different offices on a large campus

Voice-over-Wireless LAN:

  • Beefed-up quality of service capabilities
  • Fast handoff between APs
  • Links into the corporate PBX


  • Improved encryption and authentication capabilities
  • Wireless "Sniffing"
  • Blocking and checking new devices on the network


  • Increased amounts of data on the asset tag itself
  • Readers, including barcode scanners
  • Multiple radio types


  • Triangulates signals using GPS, WiFi or other radio transmissions
  • Can be assisted via cellular networks
  • New technologies allow detection indoors and outside


  • Dedicated access points -- or "nodes" -- require far fewer physical connections back to a wired network
  • Multi-radio systems for access and backhaul
  • Backhaul may soon incorporate wireless broadband radios

Wireless Broadband:

  • Fixed wireless links incorporate FSO and/or WiMax for metropolitan area high-speed links
  • Forthcoming 802.16e standard enables transfer at vehicular speeds
  • CPE equipment is becoming available but WiMax PC cards are still rare

Table 1:
Vendors Access Points Thin Access Points 802.11 Switches/Controllers 802.11 Bridges/Long Range Links Security Infrastructure VOIP-Over-WLAN Infrastructure RFID Infrastructure Location Infrastructure Enterprise Mesh Enterprise Broadband Wireless
AirDefense X
AirMagnet X
AirTight Networks X
Alcatel SA X X X X
Alien Technology X
Alvarion X
Aperto Networks X X
Aruba Wireless Networks X X
Avaya Inc. X
Beceem Networks X
BelAir Networks X
BlueSocket Inc. X X
Browan Communications X X
Cisco Systems Inc. X X X
Colubris Networks X
Columbitech AB X
Cranite Systems Inc. X
Ecutel Inc. X
Ekahau X
LM Ericsson Telefon X X
Enterasys Networks Inc. X X
Extreme Networks Inc. X X
Extricom Ltd. X X
Firetide Inc X
Fortress Technology Inc. X X
Foundry Networks Inc. X X
GigaBeam X
HAL Systems, Inc. X X
Hewlett-Packard Co. X X X
Hitachi X
IDMicro X
IP Unplugged AB X X
Juniper Networks X
Locust World X
Maxell Corp. X X
Meru Networks X X
Mesh Dynamics Inc. X
Motorola Inc. X X
NEC Corp. X X
Net Motion Inc. X
Newbury Networks Inc. X
Nokia Corp. X X
Nortel Networks X X X X X
Proxim/Terrabeam X X X X X
PSC Inc. X
RFID Systems Inc. X
RoamAD Ltd. X
Siemens AG X X X X X X X
SkyPilot Networks X X
SonicWall Inc. X
Strix Systems X X X
Symbol Technologies X X X X X X X X X
TeraBeam Inc.
TEK Industries X
3Com Corp.
Trapeze Networks X
Tropos Networks X
Vernier Networks X
Versus Technology Inc. X
Vocera Communications X X
Wavesat X X

802.11 wireless LAN access points are the essential components of a WiFi network. These radio boxes have a range of 300 square feet, data transfer speeds of up to 54 Mbit/s, and can connect multiple users to the corporate network. They come in two flavors: fat (or standalone) access points that can operate without a centralized controller; and thin (or dumb) access points that connect back to the aforementioned switch over a layer 2 or 3 connection. The controlling switch manages capacity, security, and user access to the network.

Going outdoors for a moment, Wireless LAN bridges are still essentially APs. They are, however, access points equipped with signal boosters that can allow corporations to link different buildings on a campus layout without additional wiring.

Fat access points aren't going away anytime soon. Indeed many vendors are now developing ways to allow their switches and controllers to talk to different types of standalone APs. Sales of traditional wireless LAN access points, the largest area of the enterprise market, surpassed $1 billion in 2005, according to Synergy Research Group Inc.

  • The wireless LAN switch platform is becoming the central hub for a lot of enterprise activity from managing security and VOIP to adding radio support for RFID and Bluetooth hardware.
  • There is still arguably no single standard for controlling APs via a switch.
  • Mesh network and WiMax could start to play a larger role in the campus linking tasks that WiFi bridges currently handle.

The Vendors:
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Separate wireless LAN security boxes first started to evolve as corporations and vendors realized the potential security issues posed by the original 802.11b specification and the difficulties of securing larger networks of access points.

The b specification had a security protocol called wired equivalency protection (WEP) that proved to be all too easy to crack. Initial enterprise customers were also looking for easier ways to authenticate users and encrypt traffic across multi-AP networks.

Early movers in the industry included companies such as Bluesocket Inc. , Funk Software, and Vernier Networks Inc.

While integrated wireless LAN security has improved over the last couple of years, most of the dedicated vendors have managed to stay ahead of the crowd with new additions to their platforms and more sophisticated security applications.

Chief among these are intrusion detection systems, or IDS. Vendors have built on the idea of detecting rogue access points -- or devices -- on the network with a series of laptop walkarounds or detected detectors installed so now that any WiFi device that comes into the organization can be quarantined and checked for viruses and approved software.

  • Security "sniffing" systems are now seeing more than just WiFi transmissions but also detecting the presence of Bluetooth and other devices in the air space.
  • Convergence is also having an effect in the security as phones become potential virus carriers as they move between different network types.
  • Wired and wireless traffic are coming together as a new breed of security boxes analyzes both traffic types.
The Vendors:
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Interest in Wireless VOIP initially took off on the device side, as vendors such as Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) and SpectraLink Corp. introduced WiFi handsets to use existing 802.11 infrastructure for VOIP services.

It soon became clear that standard 802.11 infrastructure could be improved on in the VOIP sphere, and companies like Meru brought out infrastructure designed to facilitate wireless VOIP services.

The essential capabilities required for such services are fast handoffs between access points (50 milliseconds or less) and quality of service extensions that can prioritize voice traffic.

Now these capabilities are increasingly being offered in standard APs. There is, however, still an argument for specialist VOWLAN equipment. Some vendors tend to focus on the extra capacity, while others are explicitly tying in their products to the advent of dual-mode convergence devices, and the need to link the WiFi infrastructure to the corporate PBX.

  • Vendors are increasingly looking at multi-radio systems as a way to handle the potential increased traffic of WLAN VOIP.
  • Dual-mode phones could require more fixed/mobile convergence equipment inside the enterprise rather than in the carrier network.
  • Security is an increasing concern for enterprises and vendors with many looking for ways to avoid "dumb" WiFi handsets becoming a security risk in the enterprise.

The Vendors:
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From a set of limited technologies designed to identify products and enhance shipping labels, radio-frequency identification has developed into a multi-billion sector of its own. Also known as electronic product codes or automatic product identification, the RFID sector has in the last few years produced dozens of small startups focused on tag manufacture, reader design and manufacture, and systems integration as well as specialist suppliers to vertical industries. At the same time, major technology companies like Hitachi, Symbol, and IBM have recognized the RFID market as a major revenue stream in the coming years.

The adoption of RFID is being driven by both top-down and bottom-up forces. While the former involves declarations from major purchasers such as Wal-Mart and the Department of Defense that their suppliers must incorporate RFID into every phase of the manufacturing and distribution chain, the latter is fueled by hundreds of small warehouse and manufacturing companies choosing RFID to streamline their internal processes.

Two parallel processes will determine the rate of growth of the RFID market in the next five to ten years: the development of standards, by groups like EPCGlobal, and the reduction in price of RFID tags, which remain costly for many small to medium-sized businesses.

Looking ahead, the potential for RFID for applications like port security, personnel tracking and safety, and pharmaceutical labeling and monitoring has only barely been exploited to date.

  • While existing RFID chips cost between 50 cents and a dollar, Wal-Mart has predicted mass production will bring that price down to 5 cents. In 2003 Japan released an RFID tag that would cost 7 cents to manufacture, while Korean researchers have produced a chip that they claim would cost .05 cents each to make.

  • Last fall EPCglobal published a report entitled "The EPCGlobal Architecture Framework," which describes a standardized worldwide RFID network.

  • The Venture Development Corporation puts 2005 worldwide revenue for RFID systems at $1.8 billion; the total RFID market will reach more than $7 billion by 2008, according to UK research group Pira International.

The Vendors:
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Location services had a false start in the early 2000s in the wireless market. Companies like Newbury Networks initially issued products that could locate devices on a short-range wireless network in order to facilitate applications such as electronic museum guides.

Nowadays location overlays for wireless LAN networks are designed for the tracking of expensive assets in the enterprise, employing user policies depending on device location, pinpointing rogue access points, and tracking usage and traffic patterns.

Locating users and devices on a wireless LAN network works in its most basic form by triangulating the distance -- via signal strength -- of the radio between several access points. The accuracy of such systems is around 5 to 10 meters, depending on the density of the radio network and the number of walls and other RF obstacles in the area.

Arguably, however, the market segment wasn't really validated until Cisco introduced its first location box -- acquired when it bought Airespace -- last year.

  • High-end location tags using WiFi for valuable assets in the enterprise have been pushed by vendors such as Aeroscout and Cisco.
  • Location is being used for some policy management applications, such as which users can access what applications and where in the office space.
  • Location can be used to help define public and private areas of a corporate network.

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