Revamping the Immature WLAN

The cycle of wireless LAN products usually leads to one inevitable conclusion: upgrades. New technologies and chips mean the access points deployed in an office or warehouse today have to be individually upgraded each year or so, or worse, completely changed. This can be an expensive prospect for any size company when IT labor is not cheap and enterprise class access points can hit the $600 point.

Enter Symbol Technologies — the company says its new Mobius Wireless System may take away some of that sting. The system consists of low-cost access “ports” (not points) that are centrally managed by a wireless switch.

“Over the past three years, vendors — including Symbol — made enterprise class infrastructure products, turning over products every year,” says Ray Martino, Vice President of Network Products for Symbol’s Wireless Systems Division. “Of course, you can imagine customers aren’t happy to find out a product they bought this year can’t do the latest networking feature.

“Because of the immaturity of the market and the changes [always] coming, the cost of support has been high.”

Central management is done by the Mobius Axon Wireless Switch, which will sell at various prices depending upon needs ($2895 for a 6-port version, $3719 for the12-port, $5367 for the 24-ports, and up to $6191 for 30 ports).

The Mobius Axon Access Port units, however, are only $249 list price and sold separately, so you get as many as needed. Each is hooked via Power over Ethernet to the switch and comes in a fire retardant plastic housing. They are can be mounted on walls or ceilings via two straight-through screw holes or can be set right on top of a ceiling tile. Each features a blue LED indicator light, purposely not red so it can be distinguished from smoke detectors. Each uses a 3.5 dBi integrated omni-directional antenna.

“[The access ports are] no more than MAC layer bridges that take a packet in the air and get it on the wire,” says Martino. “There’s no TCP/IP or security on this thing. It’s basically not much different than a NIC card.”

All the packets now go through the central Mobius Axon Switch which takes care of security (Kerberos authentication, TKIP, 802.1X, EAP-TLS, EAP-TTLS, AirBEAM VPN, and Symbol’s KeyGuard are all supported), as well as Quality of Service and integration with the wired LAN. Each Switch has an in/out port rated for 10/100BaseT Ethernet but is upgradeable to Gigabit speed.

The Mobius line will support not only 802.11b, but will also support 802.11a and g in the future. Legacy support for Symbol’s Spectrum24 (802.11 and 802.11b) is also available. The switch runs a version of Linux, so it’s conceivable that in the future the Mobius Axons could even support third party software.

Virtual LAN support will let administrators control bandwidth for users, as well as services and security for different users or locations all through a single access port.

Martino figures price savings for companies will come in part from the hardware (“The switch costs more, but it’s more than offset,” he says) but expects even more savings for businesses because of the ease of upgrades through a central management system.

The Mobius line is currently in beta testing (and is in fact running the 1000-user wireless LAN at this week’s NetWorld+Interop and COMDEX Atlanta 2002 shows in Atlanta). Products will be available for order in November.

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