Wireless LAN speeds up for business

Wireless LAN (WLAN) vendors will try to get businesses' attention by showing hardware that supports speedy 54M-bps (bits per second) connections as well as enhanced security for existing 11M-bps WLAN products at Comdex Fall next week.

Intel Corp. will announce the availability of its PRO/Wireless 5000 LAN family of products, while rival Proxim Inc. will unveil its first range of products that, just as Intel's products, support the upcoming 802.11a WLAN specification. Both companies will target small and medium-sized businesses with the offerings to be shown.

Intel's PRO/Wireless 5000 LAN family, which was first announced on Sept. 11, includes a network access point, or base station, adapters for notebook and desktop PCs and a mini PCI adapter to be embedded in devices. Proxim's suite will consist of similar products, a spokeswoman said.

802.11a is billed by vendors as "next generation WLAN," succeeding 802.11b. While users will welcome the speed increase, there are some catches. 802.11a still faces regulatory approval in Europe and compatibility guidelines for 802.11a products have yet to be set. Also, the technologies aren't compatible and about twice as many base stations are needed to cover an area with an 802.11a WLAN, making a network based on 802.11a more expensive.

Agere Systems Inc., a Lucent Technologies Inc. spin-off, is one of the vendors that is not yet making 802.11a products because it feels the technology isn't ready yet. However, Agere will have its AP-2000 WLAN access point on display at Comdex. The device has two slots for radio cards and will support 802.11a cards when they come out, allowing users to build an 802.11b network now and migrate later. Other vendors, including Intel and Proxim, offer similar migration options on base stations.

"We're waiting for the finalization on the (802.11a) standard by the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Inc.) and also for the WECA (Wireless Ethernet Compatibility Alliance) to come out with test guidelines," said Agere spokesman Mark Shapiro.

Agere will stress at Comdex its roadmap for the future and announce free software that enhances security for all users of its ORiNICO-based WLAN products, Shapiro said.

Also beating the WLAN security drum at Comdex is Cisco Systems Inc., which will give users tips on securing their wireless networks and announce it is strengthening its Aironet WLAN security offering.

Vendors are not only preparing for their customers to migrate by selling hardware that handles both 802.11b and 802.11a radio cards; management of the networks is also an issue. Both Intel and Proxim will tout their management software and, in Proxim's case, its hardware as well. Both vendors allow centralized management of all base stations and clients, including security features.

All vendors expect migration to happen in phases. Intel doesn't expect 802.11a to outsell its predecessor until some time in the second half of 2003, for example. Market research firm International Data Corp. (IDC) is more conservative: it doesn't see 802.11a dominating the WLAN market in terms of revenue until 2005.

Although IDC does foresee a phased migration for WLAN users, the Asia/Pacific region likely will follow a different route, said Simon Chew, senior analyst at IDC Asia/Pacific.

"Businesses in Europe and the U.S. will take some time before they replace their 802.11b products, as doing so within two years of the purchase doesn't make much ROI (Return on Investment) sense. However, the 802.11b standard isn't widely deployed in Asia and it is likely that those looking to adopt WLAN will do so using the latest technology," he said.

Vendors that will not attend Comdex, including 3Com Corp., Avaya Inc. and Symbol Technologies Inc. all report that they are waiting for the 802.11a specification to be completed. All three vendors, who decided not to showcase for various reasons, currently offer, or will soon offer, access points that will accept 802.11a radio cards.

(Stephanie Sim in Hong Kong contributed to this report.)For more information on Comdex Fall, visit http://www.key3media.com/comdex/.

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