Vendor trio develops self-adjusting WLAN

FRAMINGHAM (12/03/2003) - A trio of wireless LAN vendors say they are "actively collaborating" to offer enterprise users a self-adjusting WLAN infrastructure.

The product mix, available now, makes use of low-priced access points from Netgear Inc., a management and security gateway, or controller, from Bluesocket Inc., and Propagate Networks' software that lets WLAN clients and access points automatically adjust radio signals, channels and other configurations to minimize interference and maximize bandwidth.

In effect, the vendors are trying to create a centralized WLAN infrastructure without forcing customers to deploy an array of WLAN switches, while undercutting the premium prices charged by the enterprise access point leader, Cisco Systems Inc.

Netgear and Bluesocket have licensed the Propagate software, which will run on their hardware, says Propagate founder Paul Callahan.

Bluesocket, like rival ReefEdge Inc. and WLAN switch vendor Chantry Networks Inc., will also write to the AutoCell API. This will enable Bluesocket management applications can to issue directives to AutoCell, such as "don't let the access point associate with clients connecting below 1M bit/sec." AutoCell devices then negotiate among themselves, applying the directives in setting up the WLAN's radio environment.

Netgear has, and remains, focused on its traditional small and midsize company market. But the trio seems to think at least some number of larger organizations will find Netgear suitable for a range of deployments. Netgear Chairman Patrick Lo has made it clear that the company's wireless designs are focused on sites with up to 250 users.

Netgear has been aggressive in rolling out 802.11g products that boast roughly between four and five times the throughput of 11b products while using the same 2.4 GHz radio band. The company has aimed to constantly improve security, most recently by quickly certifying its WLAN gear to support the Wi-Fi Protected Access specification.

Coupling Netgear's ProSafe line with centralized management and security from Bluesocket, might make network executives more willing to embrace a less costly alternative to Cisco, Proxim Inc. and Symbol Technologies Inc., which together hold the lion's share of the enterprise access point market. Bluesocket's gateways collect a large group of access points, and let administrators secure, configure, and manage them.

Propagate's AutoCell software introduces a range of radio frequency configuration and control features that have been missing from the gateway vendors. By embedding the software in access points and client adapter cards, these radios can sense each other's presence, and adjust various radio settings to maintain strong, clear signals.

At Propagate's Acton, Mass., corporate headquarters, the founders deployed a Netgear 802.11a access point, running AutoCell, in each office cubicle, within a few feet of each other. The software let each access point sidestep its neighbors, avoiding interference, and giving each laptop user the maximum available throughput, roughly 20M bits/sec.

AutoCell promises to make WLAN radio management a commodity, says Bluesocket President and CEO Eric Janszen. "We need to see RF (radio frequency) management, security, access point control, all these things become standardized," he says. "We think the market will demand an agnostic relationship between (wireless) clients and access points."

Companies like Bluesocket, he predicts, then will provide the specialized management, security, and mobility features that enterprise WLANs will need to support data, voice, streaming media applications.

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