Secure Wi-Fi in the branch gets cheaper

In June, businesses will be able to get virtually an entire wired-and-wireless branch office network in one tiny system, thanks to silicon integration from Broadcom. The company has launched a single chip which includes a Wi-Fi access point, an Ethernet switch and VPN encryption for the uplink to head office.

Existing Broadcom customers Linksys Group and Buffalo are among the equipment vendors likely to build products around the device, expected to allow a single-box branch network, probably costing around US$368, with first products expected to be announced next month.

"These will be pretty tiny devices," said Gordon Lindsay, Broadcom's European wireless product manager. "I have seen prototypes which are 100mm long and 50mm wide." The 5350 chip includes Broadcom's ROBOswitch Ethernet switch, and an IPsec VPN encryption processor: "The only other chip you need is for the radio," said Lindsay.

The devices will support a few Ethernet connections and a wireless LAN, as well as an encrypted link to the outside world, via the main office. "It's a new element for small and medium businesses," said Lindsay. There will be four variations depending on what number of Ethernet ports you need, and a top-end device that also supports a PCI bus, so system builders can hang some peripherals on the system, for local storage or additional security devices.

It will be possible to manage the devices centrally, and they will also have the SecureEZsetup software, launched last month, which allows non-experts to set up Wi-Fi securely.

This year has seen a trend in enterprise Wi-Fi companies offering branch office solutions. The Broadcom chip will allow a new generation to undercut those devices, perhaps including power-over-Ethernet for offices wanting multiple access points, said Lindsay.

It also continues a trend to integrate more functions into single Wi-Fi devices, such as Marvell Semiconductor's combined access-point, and the radio side of the system has also been reduced by Atheros Communications.

With uncertainty over how the underlying 802.11 standards should evolve to higher speeds, adding functions to make better systems is Broadcom's strategy.

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