Wi-Fi products continue to confuse

LONDON (11/21/2003) - New Wi-Fi related products have arrived in the U.K. this week from Bluesocket Inc. and D-Link Corp., and NetGear Inc. is preparing to launch a low-cost wireless LAN switch in early 2004, adding to the confusion of IT managers.

The products join other new arrivals from Airespace Inc. and Aruba Wireless Networks Inc., and from Cisco Systems Inc.

The NetGear FSM7326P is a 24 port Layer 3 Managed 10/100 switch with Power-on-Ethernet. It's currently only available in the U.S., for a hitherto unmatched price of US$1,750 for a 24 port switch which can support up to 15 access points. Other vendors will weigh in to point out that their products do more, but it's a device that should suit an office that needs multiple access points, and the price will get it noticed when it arrives here early in 2004.

Although Bluesocket's new WG-5000 Gateway also manages wireless access points, it is like comparing chalk and cheese. It's an "appliance," a generic computer configured to a specific network task, in this case, firewalling and managing the access points attached to a network. It doesn't connect directly to the access points through ports, but uses Layer 3 tunnels across the network. The new model takes Bluesocket up to 1 Gbit/s throughput and a thousand users, according to Martin Cassidy EMEA general manager.

Other vendors criticize Bluesocket and the similar Vernier system (as sold by Hewlett-Packard Co.) as little more than firewalls. However, the approach is well established (Bluesocket can point to more customers than some of the startups) and, according to Cassidy it fits well in the grimy reality of the network ecosystem. Since it does not add any switches to the network, or mandate particular access points, it is unlikely to step on the toes of the giants, particularly market leader Cisco -- a company notably hostile to true wireless switches from the likes of Airespace and Aruba.

"Ninety percent of the networks we plug into are Cisco networks," said Cassidy. Although he claims his appliance performs as five Cisco boxes, it leaves the switches and access points to Cisco. "We aren't competing with them," he said.

Finally, still without a wireless switch product to its name, D-Link contributed to the confusion of U.K. IT managers by launching faster access points -- that differ from the faster access points offered by the company in the U.S.

The AirPlus Xtreme G+ wireless base station compresses data, giving a faster throughput, which, as we reported here, D-Link claims is a better way to get a speed gain than the Super-G technology that rival NetGear is offering. Compressing data on standard 802.11g signals is less wasteful of radio bandwidth than binding channels together as in Super-G, is the D-Link argument, in a nutshell.

So far, so good, except that D-Link's actual radio is based on the same Atheros Communications Inc. chipset as NetGear, and D-Link in the U.S. is actually offering the Super-G speed boost that D-Link Europe is so dismissive about. We mention this here, because stories are surfacing in which rival chip vendor Broadcom Corp. slams Atheros -- and D-Link and NetGear -- for using Super-G, which Broadcom claims will degrade regular 802.11g performance on nearby nodes. This criticism should not apply to D-Link's G+ products available in Europe. "We aren't offering Super-G in Europe because we want backward compatibility with Airplus (a speed boost which takes D-Link's 802.11b access points up to 22 Mbit/s)," said Nick Bharadia, a pre-sales engineer at D-Link.

Since D-Link does offer switches, it seems likely the company will offer some kind of wireless switch in future, but there is nothing on the roadmap now.

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