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Analysis: Alternative WLAN Technologies


Remember when users were thrilled if you offered Wi-Fi coverage in the conference room? Expectations are changing fast, and if your wireless strategy amounts to a few individually managed access points, you risk being caught short. That's especially true if voice-over-WLAN initiatives, replacement of desktops with Wi-Fi-enabled laptops and dual-mode smartphones are on your agenda.

The good news? Early adopters, many now with second-generation WLAN infrastructures using wireless switches rather than standalone APs, are generating challenging use cases--in academia and big-box retail stores, for example--that showcase innovative vendors like Extricom, Meru Networks and Xirrus. Although none of these can challenge Aruba Networks and Cisco Systems on market share, they're keeping the pressure on leaders to show progress in coverage and capacity.

We're also seeing advances in antenna design, especially the inclusion of Wi-Fi in DAS (distributed antenna systems), once limited to cellular coverage. The 802.11n/MIMO (multiple-input, multiple-output) standard is also worth watching, but it's not yet time to pounce. While we've heard Cisco might have an enterprise-class 11n offering later this year, it would be on the Draft 2.0 spec. The final standard is expected mid-2008, and with the Wi-Fi Alliance behind Draft 2.0, many enterprise vendors won't hesitate to follow Cisco's lead.

So if your WLAN vendor achieves Wi-Fi Alliance Draft 2.0 certification and promises a software-only upgrade to the final spec, should you bite? Only if you really need capacity issues solved today, because you'll likely pay a premium.

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