A pattern is emerging in the wireless announcements that will come out of next week's Interop show. WLANs moving on to the Next Big Thing.

Big things don't come much bigger than a new generation, and that is exactly what Meru and Extricom are claiming. Both have "single-channel" wireless LANs, which avoid co-channel interference by the same counter-intuitive measure (at least, it was counter-intuitive to me): putting adjacent access points on the same channel, blanketing the building with a WLAN on one frequency and using intelligence in the switch to sort out which packet comes from which client.

The approach removes the lengthy handoffs between cells that have blighted applications like voice on WLAN, since the network looks like one giant access point. So both companies are positioning their systems for voice.

We saw Extricom's entry at London's WLAN Event, and described here, how it has no MAC on the access point, and connects eight of these directly to a switch.

Meru, it turns out, has been quietly selling single-channel WLANs for a year or so now. The signs are that it is ramping up at N+I, with a new "Radio Switch", that has been shortlisted for a Best or Interop award. "Our sales have been doubling for the last two to three quarters," said Ben Gibson, vice president of marketing at Meru. "We've got to the position where we can go to market in a more serious way."

Although both take a single-channel approach, there's a big difference. Meru puts more intelligence on the AP - a full MAC layer, in fact. This means it only needs to connect to the central controller at layer 3, and the controller can be more distant, in another domain. Extricom's ultra-thin APs have to have a direct Ethernet connection to the switch.

Meru's switch will probably turn out to be a more scalable, enterprise beast, while Extricom may have an SMB feel to it. "[Analyst] Gartner is calling this the fourth generation of enterprise Wi-Fi," said Gibson. (Read a Meru white paper on the subject).

Meru's switch isn't announced till Monday, but the next obvious step would be to increase capacity: in a "single-channel" WLAN, this means adding more blankets of Wi-Fi by adding more frequencies. But how many? Wait till Monday.

Trapeze swings with new partner
Back in what Gartner must call the "third generation" of Wi-Fi, Trapeze will continue to make the running in multi-vendor Wi-Fi. The switch vendor has beaten its erstwhile rival Aruba to another OEM partner, having snared Enterasys, last of the old network giants (we have people here at Techworld who can remember when Enterasys was called Cabletron).

This partnership is different from others, where 3Com and Nortel have taken Trapeze's switch into their product range. Enterasys is licensing the software to run on an appliance.

Could this be a sign of things to come, as this sort of wireless switch becomes a firmware function on other network equipment? "In the longer term, we expect licensing to make up fifteen or twenty percent of our revenue," said chief executive Jim Vogt, at the London WLAN Event. "Over time, the market will move towards licensing."

Meanwhile, multi-vendor WLANs will be on view, as Trapeze's partner, 3Com, shows how to bridge the "generation gap", with a free software upgrade to its older "first generation" standalone 8259 access point, so it can be managed and secured by the Trapeze WLAN switch.

Cisco strategy announcement
We've been waiting for Cisco to announce its strategy for integrating Airespace, the "third generation" Wi-Fi switch and dealing with its own generation gap, since it agreed to buy Airespace in January. Online sources are pretty sure that N+I will be the time and place for that announcement.

We know Cisco will use a control protocol (based on Airespace's LWAPP) so the Airespace switch can manage its fat (first generation) APs, and we expect it will put the Airespace firmware on its own big switches.

But the devil will be in the detail: when will it deliver? Will it add the traditional Cisco price premium to Airespace-based products? Trapeze, in particular, is itching to compete and claims to already do a better job on integrating Cisco's wireless products.

Bluesocket gets into thin APs?
Whether Cisco customers turn to Trapeze, or use Cisco's own products, they now have a lot more choice, which could be bad news for the company that specialised in integrating fat APs - Bluesocket.

So it's perhaps not as surprising as it seems, that Bluesocket has changed the habits of a lifetime and is launching its own APs, designed to work only with its own BlueSecure WLAN controllers. This creates a full system for Wi-Fi management, that will look very much like those of Aruba and Trapeze.

"If we only did a gateway, it would not look healthy," said Dave Danielson, Bluesocket's vice president of marketing. "Customers are looking for a whole solution." He expects access points to only make up a small proportion of Bluesocket's revenue, however: "In greenfield sites, people want to buy multi-vendor."

Mesh growsMesh expert Tropos Networks will launch a new big 5210 outdoor mesh router, the 5210, which supports the 54 Mbit/s 802.11g WLAN standard. Upping the speed means the mesh will scale better. The company will also have an indoor router, and an in-vehicle router.

Aruba goes tiny
Finally, not so much a big thing as a small thing. Aruba plans to make a secure version of those tiny access points people carry around on business trips, to share Wi-Fi on the move. The "personal AP" will be a thin AP that connects remotely across the Internet, so you get a secure Wi-Fi bubble wherever you can plug in a cable.

On all of these stories - more details next week.