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Market Analysis: Enterprise Wireless LANs: Page 6 of 13

As noted earlier, Cisco dominates in market share, controlling more than half of enterprise sales. Just how much more is a good question. If you zero in on the so-called "carpeted enterprise" market and exclude Symbol, and if you focus exclusively on WLAN infrastructure rather than supporting products like wireless VoIP, that number sneaks closer to 65 percent. By any measure, Cisco is doing well. Although Synergy has the overall enterprise WLAN market growing by 5 percent in Q4 2005, it gauges Cisco's growth at 18 percent. Impressive, especially when you consider that the company was busy absorbing Airespace during 2005, an activity that undoubtedly convinced some Cisco customers to take a wait-and-see attitude regarding new acquisitions.

What's Next

One of the most significant decisions for IT managers relates to the integration of conventional Ethernet and Wi-Fi LAN services. One school of thought is that Ethernet and Wi-Fi are complementary LAN access alternatives that demand tight service, security and policy integration. For example, many organizations with large 802.11 deployments are implementing 802.1X authentication and privacy services. Although 802.1X has long been available for Ethernet networks, few organizations have taken advantage because the cost often exceeded the benefits. However, once an 802.1X infrastructure is developed to support 802.11, the incremental effort associated with adding wired Ethernet to the mix is relatively modest. Vendors that embrace this view seek to leverage existing Ethernet infrastructures by adding wireless functionality. The most notable examples include Cisco's plan to add Wi-Fi controllers to its Catalyst 6500 and 3750 products (see our take on network node validation ).

A counterpoint position asserts that these technologies are sufficiently unique in design and capabilities to be treated separately. Does it make sense to upgrade an established Ethernet infrastructure solely to support enhanced wireless functionality? After all, it's common for Cisco shops to run older, more stable IOS code in their switches and routers. Vendors that champion the overlay strategy assert that the Wi-Fi infrastructure should be logically distinct, though dependent on, a robust Ethernet environment. They further warn that, though a vendor may offer the appearance of wired/wireless integration by physically embedding wireless controller capabilities into a switch, such an approach may offer only a minor level of true integration. And the risks associated with early adoption are real, despite vendor efforts to test all permutations.

From a practical perspective, Cisco has embarked on a concerted effort to integrate wired Ethernet and wireless 802.11 services, but its most ambitious goals are still found in PowerPoint slide decks rather than in real products. Still, we predict Cisco will continue its push in that direction, providing rational incentives for its Ethernet customers to remain loyal when it comes to wireless.