A new wireless switch from Airespace will take on a recently launched product from Trapeze, in a high-growth market sector - the branch office.

Airespace's 3500 four-port wireless LAN switch supports up to six access points, intended for branch offices and smaller companies where up to 90 people work. The announcement comes hot on the heels of a wireless branch system launched by Trapeze earlier this month, as the industry focusses on this potentially lucrative part of the wireless LAN market (see our feature Wi-Fi vendors approach the branch office).

Airespace's announcement also included guaranteed quality of service over the wireless LAN, an intrusion protection service with attack signatures and, least excitingly, support for IP version 6.

"We are seeing strong wireless growth in new markets, such as retail, which require the same calibre of wireless LAN services as larger enterprises but at lower capacities," said Richard Webb, directing analyst of wireless LANs at Infonetics Research. "Larger WLAN systems are too expensive for these environments, traditional access points are too difficult to manage, and consumer and SMB products lack enterprise-grade features, such as security and WLAN management."

Airespace's 3500 WLAN controller fills in a gap between the company's existing "remote office" system (a WAN-connected access point launched in December) and its 4000 series which supports 12 and more access points. It supports features including RF monitoring and management, a location service and security, and costs from $2,000 including software. "It's for offices covering 10,000 to 60,000 square feet," said Jeff Aaron, senior product marketing manager at Airespace. "The problem with the other branch systems, is they don't include features like QoS, intrusion prevention, location and RF management in the basic product," said Aaron.

Earlier this month, Airespace rival Trapeze launched a cheaper branch system, the $995 MXR-2, a small-scale switch which supports three access points (from Trapeze or other vendors), to extend to smaller offices than its existing 8-port MX8. Designed particularly for ease of use, the system downloads its settings from a central switch over the wide area network. "On power up, it talks to the central server, gets all security and other details," said Michael Coci, director of technical marketing at Trapeze. "It is controlled from the network operations centre. One centre can support many thousands of these MXR-2s."

One of the Trapeze system's ports has power over Ethernet, a feature which Aaron says is not in demand (and therefore not included) in the Airespace box. "We never got huge feedback that people wanted PoE." Airespace access points can accept power over Ethernet, so users can always use an injector, he added.

Beyond that, the companies line up their usual strong points. Trapeze reckons its facility with VLANs (and its status as a pioneer of fast roaming) gives it an edge, while Airespace goes big on location, and its new features. The Airespace switch's intrusion prevention feature has been improved so it can now take updates of attack signatures in real time without a reboot, says Aaron. The guaranteed QoS feature prioritises traffic by type (in practice, usually by what VLAN it is in), so that visitors browsing the web don't swamp the network, and a voice call can have a guaranteed 40Kbit/s channel.

Both products will come up against the first product in this sector, Symbol's branch switch, which was launched in February and has been in the market for a year now. "Symbol is only in this business to transport barcodes to a database," said Coci, "They only support three VLANs." Aaron reckons the barcode giant - despite being second in the wireless LAN market - has not moved much outside its traditional niche in warehousing and retail. "That product is not designed for a carpeted environment, says Aaron.