Symbol airs all-in-one wireless switch

RFS7000 the first to embody Symbol's revamped WLAN architecture

Symbol Technologies this week is expected to unveil its latest wireless switch, a box intended to handle a range of emerging wireless technologies for the enterprise.

The RFS7000 will let Symbol catch up with rivals in some areas, such as its support for Layer 3 roaming and handling as many as 256 access points. But the switch design is aimed at ever-more-demanding enterprise wireless nets, with a powerful 16-core network processor, 4 gigabit Ethernet interfaces, and the ability to support RFID, wireless sensors nets and the developing IEEE 802.11n wireless LAN (WLAN) standard.

The switch is the first to embody Symbol's revamped WLAN architecture, unveiled earlier this year. Previously, the vendor offered a software upgrade that added some of the new features to its existing 5200 model.

Symbol's enterprise wireless product line is at the heart of Motorola's recent announcement that it will acquire the company.

The network processor, from RMI Electronics, replaces the previous model's Intel chips. The multicore design means that different chip cores can be dedicated to specific functions, such as encryption or packet forwarding. "With a set of processors, we can act on a wireless packet in parallel," says Chris McGugan, senior director of Symbol's wireless infrastructure division. Parallel processing makes it possible for the switch to handle the high traffic volumes, according to McGugan.

The operating system is based on Linux, but customized by Symbol for wireless data and voice traffic. A modular architecture means the vendor can add software modules to support a growing array of wireless technologies.

Initially, the switch will support RFID standards, so that third-party RFID readers can terminate at the switch, just like a WLAN access point. Symbol is working with a battery of RFID vendors to ensure the RFS7000 will be able to work as the intermediary between RFID tags and the reader network on one hand, and the back-end database of tag data on the other, according to McGugan.

In the future, Symbol plans to add support for wireless sensor standards including IEEE 802.14.5 radios and the ZigBee protocol stack, as well as the fixed and mobile 802.16 WiMAX wireless standards, and 802.11n. "Today, our customers can deploy 802.11a/b/g and RFID nets, with a common security and overall management infrastructure," McGugan says.

Initially the RFS7000 uses the IPv4 addressing scheme. To support large numbers of RFID and sensor nodes, Symbol will add IPv6 support in 2007.

Another new feature of the switch is the ability to group them in clusters, to improve reliability and to balance traffic loads over several boxes. As many as 15 RFS7000 switches can be clustered, with as many as 2,500 attendant 11a/b/g access points.

The number of access points will shrink dramatically as enterprises eventually deploy 802.11n products, probably on a limited basis in late 2007. The new standard will make possible WLAN throughput of 100M to 300Mbps. Currently, with the IEEE draft standard still in flux, Symbol is estimating that the RFS7000 will handle as many as 50 11n access points, McGugan says.

For the new switch, Symbol has expanded its management software, now dubbed the RF Management Suite. In the past, the company offered a device management application, called Mobility Services Platform, to configure and manage individual access points. The new software includes code to manage the radio frequency spectrum, see a map of actual RF coverage and performance, and design and redesign the WLAN layout.

Security includes a 802.1x and a battery of Extensible Authentication Protocols (such as PEAP) and Kerberos. There is an integrated RADIUS server for supporting W-Fi Protected Access and WPA2 on the switch itself, along with an IPSec VPN gateway. The switch can provision the network for restricted, secure access by wireless guest users.

The RFS7000 will ship in January. List price is US$18,000 for the 128-port model, with six-port upgrade packs priced at US$1,600, and the 256-port model priced at US$24,000.

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