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Top WLAN Gear

The invitations we sent to 18 vendors included qualification criteria: centralized configuration management; support for 802.11a, 802.11b, WPA and 802.11i (but not necessarily WPA2 certified); rogue AP detection capabilities; high-availability options; radio resource management; and traffic prioritization via WMM (Wi-Fi Multimedia) or some other mechanism. We knew few products would meet all these prerequisites, but to our surprise, only four vendors--Airespace, Aruba, Cisco and Trapeze--have products that met our qualifications and agreed to put their gear where their marketing mouths are. Not surprisingly, most experts consider these four vendors the technology leaders in the enterprise WLAN market. For a rundown of vendors that declined or didn't qualify, see "The No-Shows,".

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Good Times

Gone are the days of having to use a single vendor's APs and switches or modifying your wired network to accommodate your IP addressing scheme. We put each vendor's APs into any arbitrary network, and based on DHCP information or DNS resolution, talked back to the switch by way of a tunneled connection, with each AP serving up multiple Layer 3 networks depending on ESSID (Extended Service Set ID). Yes, you'll still need to run wire to every AP location--no vendor offers robust wireless backhaul capabilities yet. But deploying wireless APs has never been easier: Each system provides a mass-deployment scenario with support for the IEEE 802.3af Power over Ethernet standard, so once wired runs are in place, it's just a matter of assigning a name or location.

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