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A Closer Look at Nortel's WLAN Line

Back in the wireless LAN game after a few years respite, Nortel Networks this week announced a strategy for helping get enterprise and carrier customers set up with private and/or public access WLANs. They'll begin by shipping a number of 802.11 products in the second quarter of this year.

Nortel's director of product marketing for WLAN solutions, Anthony Bartolo, talked with us about the specifics of the product line.

He says that Nortel's vision is for "mobility across a company -- that is, uninterrupted connectivity, whether in the office, coffee shop, or at home." To deliver that, the company has come up with an initial a suite of four products.

The first is the WLAN Access Point 2220, which will go on sale May 30 for $899. This dual-mode 802.11a/b product will support both 2.4GHz and 5GHz communications simultaneously. Bartolo says it uses "an algorithm that switches the users between the two frequencies. It's based on an Atheros chipset, so any CardBus adapter with Atheros dual-band will work with the unit." Because it's Atheros based, it also supports the Atheros 802.11a "turbo mode" of up to 108Megabits per second (Mbps) when used with Atheros clients.

"We've learned that you do have to have a decent chuck of memory in your access point," says Bartolo. "We've got 16MB SDRAM and 8MB of Flash in there, plus dual-image capabilities-- both a run-time image [with administrator defined settings] and a default image. If there's an issue with an image, it'll go to the default, so that the IT department can send someone out to deal with it." In the meantime, the default image settings keep the access point running, albeit without the full security the administrator probably had set.

Because voice over IP is a key part of Nortel's offerings (see below), they've also built in some voice prioritization Quality of Service. Once 802.11e-defined QoS is ratified, it'll supercede Nortel's proprietary version.

The 2220 units are plenum rated, support Power over Ethernet for deployment, and have four levels of power management to control signal strength. They will support 802.1X, SSL and IPSec encryption; Bartolo calls the access point "the first layer of our layered security architecture."

The backbone of that security architecture is the WLAN Security Switch 2250, the manager of the system. It provides bandwidth management and load balancing, and "mobile adaptive tunneling" to determine user priority and access rights to a device based on what it supports (such as IPSec) and who the user is.

"It's a privilege-based kind of access," says Bartolo.

He says the key element is that the 2250 provides roaming around a building or campus, "seamlessly and securely," across subnets with single session persistence so there's no need for users to restart a client as they move about. The 2250 is not limited to working with only the 2220 access point, it'll work with other vendor access point products -- add the 2250 on day one or later, he says -- and it also detects unauthorized rogues on the network.

The 2250 can support up to 500 mobile concurrent sessions, but the encrypted amount of traffic it can handle (about 200Mbps) actually determine how many mobile users it can realistically handle. More than that would require a second 2250 unit. "If one has an issue, the other can take over," says Bartolo.

The management of the products can be done via integration with Nortel's own Optivity network management platform .

The 2250 will be out on June 30. The list price isn't finalized yet, but Bartolo says it will be around $6000 to $7000.

On the client side, Nortel has one standard product. The WLAN Mobile Adapter 2201 is a Cardbus adapter due May 30 that will sell for $259. This again is based on Atheros chipset, the third generation, so Bartolo says the 802.11a range of it's radio is "similar to 802.11b because they've come so far."

The unique client side steps on the toes of Telesym -- they'll offer client software for Pocket PCs called WLAN Mobile Voice Client i2050. This $100 application turns the PDA into a wireless IP telephone handset. It will, of course, work with Nortel's complete set of IP telephony servers.