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Interoperability Issues Infest Wireless LANs

With equipment prices falling and the number of hot spots rising, wireless LANs will become more predominant in 2003 than ever before. For network managers, though, vendor interoperability is expected to remain an issue across areas ranging from encryption to configuration management tools.

According to recently released research from Gartner Dataquest, worldwide end user spending on WLAN equipment grew 38 percent in 2002, but unit shipments almost doubled, including 15 million adapters and 4.4 million access points and gateways. Pricing fell 37 percent on average last year, and Gartner predicts a further price drop of 25 percent in 2003.

Analysts point to Intel's Centrino technology and hotspot initiatives as two additional factors that will fuel future market growth. "Intel is investing in the (Centrino) processor, chipset, and radio, as well as in branding and marketing test validation. There will be very much of a push to make wireless go," claims Mark Margevicius, a research director at GartnerGroup.

No Common Management Framework Yet

Progress has been made around security protocols, but WLAN technology still lacks a common management framework. "There is no common management infrastructure, and I think interoperability will continue to be an issue. Management is one of the ways in which vendors like to differentiate themselves. There is a difference between a $99 access point and one that costs several hundred dollars more, with better service and support," according to Margevicius.

Today's wireless access points (APs) are typically bundled with their own built-in administration tools. Vendors have already been responding, though, to growing demand for WLAN with new products for network management and security. Cisco and Symbol, for instance, already have products on the market for remote policy-based administration.

"Products like Cisco's Wireless LAN Engine and Symbol's Mobius save administrators from having to go to each access point to enter in MAC address filtering information, for instance," states Brian Moran, marketing manager at AirDefense, a hardware appliance for rogue detection, intrusion detection, and encryption monitoring.

Cisco has been supporting its Aironet WLAN management technology in edge switching products as well as in access points and wireless cards. Last fall, Symbol expanded its own Mobius technology to edge switching, too. In February, Proxim chimed in with Maestro, an upcoming switch-enabled lineup that will build on its previous Harmony architecture via access point aggregation and load balancing.

Meanwhile, vendors readily admit that their switching-enabled wireless LAN management architectures don't fully play together. "That's our competitors' problem, though, not ours," quips Larry Birenbaum, general manager of Cisco's Ethernet Access Group.

Page 2: Cisco Initiative and Proxim's Maestro