Cisco's purchase of Airespace is paying off, according to market figures.

The centralised WLAN sector has changed a lot in the last twelve months, according to market research figures released last in 2005. Cisco is profiting from its purchase of Airespace, winners and losers are separating, and newer technologies are starting to make their mark.

"Airespace has grown 200 percent or more, since its acquisition by Cisco," said Greg Collins of Dell'Oro, who says that Cisco did around $24 million of business with Airespace-based products in the third quarter, compared with the $7 million that Airespace took in the first quarter of the year.

The real jump in Airespace-based technology is probably not quite so extreme. Airespace's OEM business, through Nortel and Alcatel, was not included in the first-quarter figures. These partnerships went to Aruba and Trapeze, respectively, when Cisco bought Airespace.

Despite the obvious acceptance of Airespace by Cisco's customers, it's not yet replacing Cisco's legacy "fat" access point range, the Aironet series, however. Airespace-based products make up a steadily-growing percentage of Cisco's enterprise WLAN business, but Collins reckons they were only at ten percent of the overall figure by the third quarter. "Legacy Aironet products will continue to do well," said Collins.

Existing Aironet customers are continuing to buy the more familiar access points, because they can run the LWAPP protocol on them in future, and integrate with the newer Airespace-based controllers. The WLSM, Cisco's older module for integrating Aironet APs with a Catalyst 6500, continued to sell, despite the obvious potential of Airespace-based technology to replace it. The Airespace-based Cat 6500 module, WiSM, launched in November and doesn't yet feature in published sales figures (read the ins and outs here).

Aruba takes second spot
Outside of Cisco, Aruba is the big success story in centralised WLAN switches. It had the fastest individual growth at 50 percent, and reached $18 million for the quarter, by Dell'Oro figures. Dell'Oro doesn't include Aruba's OEM business through Alcatel, which would have made Aruba's business in centralised WLAN switching a similar size to Cisco's for that quarter, says Collins.

Synergy Research sliced the numbers slightly differently, adding in multimode access points that Dell'Oro excludes from the figures and putting Aruba in the number two position in centralised WLAN switches.

This gave Aruba the opportunity to boast, in its press release, of having bested the inventor of centralised WLAN switches, Symbol. Despite coming up with the concept of thin access points in 2002, and selling them successfully in its usual customer base, warehouses and retail companies, Symbol did not break through in a big way to the ordinary offices, or "carpeted spaces" as the wireless industry tends to call them. As a result, it has dropped well back from its position last year, when it had half the wireless switch market.

"Symbol has been pretty steady over the past quarter," said Collins - though in a quarter when others have been doing so well, "steady" is not a great achievement. "They are doing a great job in selling the product to their base, but Symbol failed to esablish itself in the carpeted area. Staying level on revenue is not good performance."

The also-rans
Frustratingly, the number three centralised WLAN start-up, Trapeze, still does not report its sales figures to market researchers. This refusal to play ball begins to look suspicious, especially, since the company told Techworld last year that it would, eventually, be reporting figures.

Collins was reluctant to even estimate Trapeze's OEM business, though he pointed to an impressive roster of OEM partners - Nortel, D-Link, Enterasys and 3Com - that ought to make a difference.

Bluesocket, whose original product line of wireless gateways was looking tired last year, has hung in there. "They're in the $3-4m range for the quarter, and still growing at 10 percent," said Collins. The company's newer ranges emphasise security and ease of use, and are moving towards a centralised model.

New kids on the block
Colubris has been around more or less as long as Bluesocket, with a range aimed at hotspot providers, but has launched a centralised product that it reckons can leapfrog the other centralised vendors. "Colubris is starting to ramp up," said Collins. "It is in the running, and growing in the Bluesocket range as far as size is concerned. "

Other new players are doing well if they can offer a new feature, especially voice, said Collins: "Newer vendors that emphasise voice over WLAN are starting to get traction particularly in Japan," he said. "The market is still very nascent, and won't be mainstream till 2007. There will be modest activity till then."

Voice on WLAN will develop in a similar way to the early days of centralised WLANs, predicted Collins: "There will be trials, and experimentation. It will appeal first to vertical markets that have a big application for voice. Then, as multi-mode handsets come out, those terminals will start to enable more widespread adoption."

Meru has been making most noise in this area, but Collins wouldn't be drawn: "It's hard to know as the company is relatively new and doesn't report figures yet." Deals for this kind of company tend to be "lumpy", with maybe a couple of million dollars in one quarter and not so much the next. "It's difficult to show a trend, but voice on WLAN is small but growing."