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Alcatel Launches 2nd Gen WLAN Switches

After the Cisco/Airespace marriage earlier this year left Alcatel in the lurch, the company decided to go with a new partner, and went to Aruba Networks. The original equipment manufacturer (OEM) deal they sealed led to today's announcement by Alcatel of its second generation of the OmniAccess WLAN switch family of products for enterprises.

Brian Witt, director of product marketing for Alcatel, says the story for enterprises is never wireless alone, but involves making wired infrastructure and wireless infrastructure work together seamlessly. "The user view is about mobility," Witt says. "It's about how to connect, wireless or wired, for data, voice, and collaboration that converges data and voice."

OmniAccess WLAN equipment, unsurprisingly, is integrated directly into Alcatel's OmniVista Network Management tools to monitor both wired and wireless data. The company introduced a new OmniVista 2770 Quarantine Manager earlier this month, a software tool for taking information from the LAN's intrusion detection system (IDS) and making sure unwanted devices are, naturally, quarantined.

As is the norm with a centralized WLAN, the smarts are in the switch. It handles all data encryption, and assigns security policy and access rights to users. The OmniAccess equipment will "follow" a user as they roam about the network to make sure they stay connected.

There will be three stackable OmniAccess products, two with eight ports (one supports 4 APs, the other supports 16 APs), and a 24-port unit that handles up to 48 APs. A four-slot modular controller used in large networks will run as many as 512 APs. The lowest-end model starts at a price of approximately $2,600. Witt says the company is selling, basically, the entire Aruba chassis line, only their controller handles more APs. He also notes that the line has a "tenfold increase in access point capacity" over the original products they OEMed from Airespace.

"We also offer the full range of access points," says Witt. "The single radio software is configurable for either band [2.4 or 5GHz]." The single radio units cost $300. Alcatel will also have a $700 dual-radio AP for simultaneous operation in 2.4 and 5 GHz for 802.11b/g and 802.11a, respectively.

While the Aruba deal is what the company will push going forward, existing customers with the Airespace equipment re-branded by Alcatel won't be left in the lurch. Witt says "the supply agreement with Airespace/Cisco is intact, so we continue to sell and support the first generation." The Airespace contract on the first generation provides for five years of support on those products. But Witt expects that, over time, customers will migrate to the new second-generation products.

"In any networking technology, even the LAN switch arena, there's always new speeds every three years... there's a period of time of co-existence in the network and then, over time, the differences appear and the migration to a new technology with an enhanced feature set becomes important," Witt says. "We can assist that migration. I expect by the end of the year, most will have migrated."