Getting Locked in with Single-Vendor WLANs

Proxim's announcement of a new access point and management suite bucks the industry trend toward integrated, hardware-based, wireless switching systems.

Dave Molta

October 8, 2004

2 Min Read
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This modular approach to wireless networking is important for someorganizations. For example, in the retail market--one of the mostpopular wireless vertical markets--physical locations are oftenrelatively small and widely distributed. In many cases, bandwidth androaming requirements are modest and wireless networks are often designedwith coverage rather than capacity in mind. Minimizing the number of APshelps reduce deployment, management and upgrade costs. It also allowsflexibility across generations of technology from specific vendors aswell as products from different vendors.

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If you talk to wireless network managers at universities, you also seeinterest in this type of product and other modular wireless solutions.While some universities have embraced wireless switches, most have stuckto more traditional designs using smart APs from a variety of vendorsand some kind of centralized management platform--either Wavelink,Airwave or an internally developed system. When asked about the newerWi-Fi switching platforms, a common response is "no thanks, I'm notinterested in getting locked into a single vendor."

Given Cisco's dominant position as a supplier of wireless gear to highereducation, there's some irony to this statement. But even at Cisco'sbiggest higher-education accounts, there's often a strategy of playingthe field a little, through open RFPs and the constant threat that theyCOULD jump ship to a competitor if Cisco doesn't take care of them.While Cisco offers its own functional and affordable managementplatform, the WLSE (Wireless LAN Solution Engine), many sites opt to gowith a third-party management system.

For some applications in some environments, more integrated wirelesssolutions offer significant value. Their management interfaces are oftensuperior, as are their advanced feature sets, which often include RFmanagement, multi-layer security services, low-latency roaming andtraffic prioritization. These features are high on the wish list ofnetwork managers, but not necessarily at the top of the must-have list.When it means getting locked in to a single-vendor solution, somemanagers are understandably hesitant.In the long run, it's likely that APs will commoditize and standardprotocols will emerge to handle communications between wireless edge andthe services core. That will make customers more comfortable investingin solutions that offer advanced services. Until then, if Proxim cansolve the basic problems associated with wireless management, thecompany just might maintain some market share.

Dave Molta is Network Computing's senior technology editor. Write to him at [email protected]

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