Meanwhile, network gear vendors--namely, Alcatel, Enterasys, Extreme, Foundry, Nortel and 3Com--developed OEM relationships to provide their customer bases with wireless solutions. These were largely me-too offerings that leveraged the channels of established network vendors, but such an approach is much less risky than internal development. And for providers like Trapeze, the OEM channel was a lifesaver, a way to remain profitable in an increasingly competitive market dominated by Cisco. The OEM approach is not a bad strategy per se, but it poses significant risks for enterprise IT, especially in emerging technology markets. Organizations that purchased Nortel WLAN gear when the company had an OEM relationship with Airespace, for example, were forced to migrate when Cisco bought Airespace and Nortel switched to Trapeze as a system provider.
Although notable differences in features and functionality exist among established WLAN controller vendors, all their offerings are more feature-rich and polished than they were a year ago. But the most interesting development since our last look at enterprise WLAN systems has been the emergence of new architectures from Extricom, Meru and Xirrus. The last is addressing deployment and scalability challenges by integrating as many as 16 radios and a controller into a single AP and using sectorized antennas to support narrow pie-slice-shaped cells, an approach resembling that taken by cellular providers. Extricom and Meru have adopted a more revolutionary tactic, eschewing conventional channel-planning design in favor of a single-channel architecture with the goal of addressing interference and roaming problems.
For organizations contemplating the rollout of simultaneous VoIP and data services over a single WLAN infrastructure in the 2.4-GHz band--and for those that just don't want to deal with the hassle of multichannel RF design--the approach taken by Extricom and Meru may offer significant benefits over more conventional architectures. Although equipment from both vendors operates with standard 802.11 clients, their controllers play a more significant role in regulating access to the airwaves, which allows for a more deterministic form of network access. And because the WLAN appears to clients as a single AP operating on one channel, rather than multiple APs operating on different channels, as is the case with older designs, roaming is extremely fast.