In most jigsaw puzzles, the pieces all look very much the same. The key to success lies in finding the ones that fit together best. It’s a description that might well apply to today’s wireless LAN landscape.
“We are seeing a whole host of new technologies coming into play now, and to get the best of breed customers have got to put together all kinds of different things,” said David Confalonieri, vice president of marketing at WLAN infrastructure provider Extricom.
Will new technologies play nicely together? Will all the WLAN components come together into a seamless whole? End users aren’t always sure. Confalonieri says his company can help, through its newly formed Uni-Fi Alliance.
The alliance brings together diverse vendors in the wireless networking space with the intention of testing and verifying their products to ensure interoperability. In addition to Extricom, the founding members are AeroScout, AirTight Networks, Ascom, and Kineto Wireless.
For systems integrators and end users alike, the issue here stems largely from an embarrassment of riches in the realm of wireless functionality. Beyond traditional data transfer, today’s WLANs offer the possibility of location-based tagging, support of Wi-Fi enabled phones, and closed circuit TV with streaming video, including mobile video, among other capabilities.
The new capabilities can be good news for an end user, but they also can significantly complicate a WLAN deployment.
“Each individual application deserves some level of checking into,” to ensure that the customers’ expectations of behavior at the systems level does indeed play out as promised, Confalonieri said. “It’s not just a question of having all these applications available. Now people are saying: When I have them all running concurrently, what happens then?”
As it turns out, what happens then is things work pretty much the way they should. In most of its testing Extricom has found that devices from alliance members are indeed interoperable.
But that’s not entirely the point.
“The stuff could work, it might work even without us doing anything,” Confalonieri said. “But from the customer’s perspective the question becomes: Do I want to be the first one to try it? Do I want to be the guinea pig?”
Presumably the answer to that question is No, which leaves vendors looking for a way to offer assurances to reluctant buyers. In this respect, organizations such as the Uni-Fi Alliance may represent a shift in the way some technology companies are approaching the WLAN space.
“In the technology arena we often lose sight of these impressions left in a channel, these concerns that may hold back rapid adoption,” Confalonieri said, adding that these business issues ought to be top-of-mind for WLAN vendors.
One might reasonably ask whether an effort like this is not just a little bit redundant. Integrating diverse technologies: That would seem to be the job of the systems integrators. As Confalonieri puts it, the alliance aims to help those integrators to do their work more effectively.
“Suppose I have five system integrators spread across four continents. If I as a vendor can save each of those integrators the effort of going through their own learning curve five times, then I am producing some real value add,” Confalonieri said. Of course, the pre-testing also makes it easier for the vendors to sell product into those integrators.
Just as Confalonieri promotes the hoped-for synergies between vendors and integrators, he is similarly quick to rebut any suggestion that the Uni-Fi Alliance may be angling for a fight with such standardization bodies as the Wi-Fi Alliance. Despite similar nomenclature, Uni-Fi is more likely to complement than to compete with the Wi-Fi Alliance, by addressing some of the issues not covered within existing standards.
“Everyone in the industry knows from experience that you can be fully compliant to a standard and yet your product may have an overall behavior that makes it unable to operate with another product,” Confalonieri said. Take for instance the case of AP-to-AP handoffs: Some run fast, some run slow, despite common standards. Compliance to standards does not mean that all technologies will behave the same.
Nor will all end-users necessarily behave the same, at least not when it comes to their IT purchases. While the alliance singles out a select group of vendors who have pre-qualified one another’s performance, Confalonieri doubts this will limit an end-user’s choices. Rather, the mutual approval of these vendors ought to just make shopping easier.
“This is an alliance but it is not exclusive. Just because this vendor is in the alliance that does not prevent a system integrator from going after some other technology that has not yet come into the alliance pool.”