Enterasys Networks doesn't yet have a high-speed wireless LAN product, but it has something almost as good - a way to shift your customer's 11Mbps wireless LAN to one almost five times faster.
Enterasys will announce a wireless LAN access point, the RoamAbout R2, which will let customers change an IEEE 802.11b wireless network into an 802.11a net, with a data rate of up to 54Mbps, by swapping a radio card. Compared with today's 2.4-GHz radios, the 11a radios, which run in the 5-GHz band, are expected to appear in interface cards and access points from Enterasys and several other LAN vendors late this year.
Competitors such as 3Com, Cisco Systems, Agere Systems/Lucent Technologies and Symbol Technologies, which currently sell 802.11b 11Mbps wireless LANs, are all expected to announce plans for 802.11a products.
An access point contains a radio transmitter that exchanges signals with other access points and client devices, such as PCs or laptops that have a corresponding wireless interface card.
Enterasys' R2 is designed as a foundation box that will eventually support an array of wireless products. Enterasys' channel can initially buy the R2, then add the 802.11b interface card and create an 11Mbps wireless LAN. Late this year, when the more powerful 11a products ship, integrators will have two options. One is to replace the slower radio card with the faster one.
The second is to pay for a daughtercard, slot it into the R2's PC card slot, and run a 2.4GHz and a 5GHz radio. The two can run so close together because they operate in different bands and are based on different technologies. The slower radio can handle routine LAN traffic, while the faster one handles such things as video or large image files.
The R2 can also function as a wireless bridge linked to antennae on building roofs, to create line-of-sight connections that can network the wired or wireless LANs in one building with those in another.
Enterasys, a unit of Cabletron, is billing the RoamAbout R2 as "802.11a-ready" because the box is designed for the higher-speed 11b interface cards.
"They're not really ready yet because no-one has any client cards [for 11a LANs]," says Jason Smolek, an International Data Corp analyst. But Smolek likes the thinking embodied in the R2, which allows companies start with 11b and move selectively to 11a without scrapping the access points.
"The other [LAN] companies aren't thinking in terms of a migration to save customers' money," Smolek says. "They sell their products at a premium: It will force enterprises to rip out 11b LANs and replace them with 11a."
But it is unlikely the migration will be as simple as Enterasys executives suggest. Firstly, higher frequency radios have a shorter range than lower frequency radios. Users may have to add 5GHz access points to get the coverage they need. Secondly, for both radios, the wireless bandwidth is shared by the clients linking to given access points. Depending on the application mix and the client population shifts, net managers may have to move and add access points.
Smolek notes that 5GHz radios are "power hogs", a contentious issue for mobile laptop clients. Enterasys and other vendors should be planning power management features to help with this, Smolek says.
However, Ian Fewtrell, managing director of Enterasys Australia, claims power management issues are unlikely to affect the take up of Enterasys' proposed 54Mbps wireless technology.
"The reality is when you're using your notebook, you're usually near a power source," claims Fewtrell. "But even when you're not, notebook and PDA battery technologies are getting better all the time."
Toting Enterasys as the largest wireless manufacturer in Australia, Fewtrell is confident the R2 technology will be well received by the channel due to its migration path and additional functionality.
RoamAbout R2 will be launched at the NetWorld+Interop show in Las Vegas. The list price is $US1349, with one slot; the current 802.11b radio card is $149. The daughtercard, creating the second slot, is $149.