Linksys small-business Wi-Fi grows up

Small businesses will get some of the wireless LAN bells and whistles enterprises already have after Cisco Systems's Linksys division expanded its product lineup on Monday.

A new router, access point and CardBus adapter will use a draft version of the 802.11n standard for high speed, as a slew of consumer wireless gear does already. But more importantly, Linksys is building security and management features into the products to help businesses with fewer than 100 employees keep their wireless networks safe.

Linksys has been a huge player in consumer networking for years and is moving upscale in the small-business category. It still doesn't compete too much with Cisco, according to Malachy Moynihan, vice president and general manager of the Linksys Home Networking Business Unit, because the parent company aims mostly at companies with 200 or more employees. If companies do start with Linksys gear and then outgrow it, there's a trade-in program to help them buy the Cisco products, he said.

Enterprise wireless LANs have been advancing from traditional stand-alone access points to complete systems with centralized control and numerous security features. Linksys is bringing some of those advantages to the small-business market, Moynihan said.

The crown jewel of the new lineup is the WRVS440N Wireless-N Gigabit Security Router, which includes four Gigabit Ethernet ports and support for an IPSec VPN (Internet Protocol Security virtual private network) for workers outside the office. It also comes with a firewall and an Intrusion Prevention System to protect the network from Internet-borne threats.

The WAP4400N Wireless-N Access Point comes equipped with POE so it can be powered solely via the Ethernet cable from the Wireless-N router or another wired device. In small businesses with larger LANs, roaming software in the access points and the client lets users stay connected as they move around the office or shop.

A Wireless Client Monitoring application developed by Linksys uses the access point and the WPC4400N Wireless-N CardBus Adapters in notebook PCs to keep track of what clients and access points are on the network. The system, which can be monitored on a Web browser, can detect rogue access points that are accidentally or deliberately plugged into the wired LAN. The monitoring system can be set to automatically solve the problem, Moynihan said. The system can also show which clients are on the network and what channels they are using, to aid wireless LAN management in companies that typically don't have a full-time IT administrator.

The 802.11n standard isn't finished, but it may be smarter for small businesses to go ahead and move if they want the performance, said Yankee Group analyst Nicole Klein.

"To wait a year and a half or even a year for a solution that will be compliant with the standard ... I'm not sure," Klein said.

The access point and adapter are set for immediate availability through Linksys's channel partners, with street prices of US$169 and $129, respectively. The router is set to ship in September for an estimated street price of US$229.

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