A late entrant to the wireless switch market is getting out of the hardware business. The move by AirFlow Networks is not an endorsement of the recent claim that software is the way forward in WLANs however: the company in question wants to sell its software to former rivals in the switch market.

Instead of building its own line of wireless switches, AirFlow now plans to license its software, combined with a third-party chip, to a wide range of equipment makers and chip builders, especially those focused on voice-over-IP on WLANs.

The software and chip take over an array of Media Access Control (MAC) layer functions. AirFlow centralises these functions in a WLAN or Ethernet switch or an IP PBX, instead of in access points, which now become, in effect, remote antennas associated with a single MAC address. (see href=" http://www.techworld.com/mobility/features/index.cfm?FeatureID=181">this article for where AirFlow has fitted in the WLAN world so far).

AirFlow's approach has two main benefits, the company argues: Firstly, it will eliminate the handoff delays associated with conventional access points and switches - vital for high-quality WLAN VoIP. And secondly, by using all available non-overlapping radio channels at the same time, instead of just one as in conventional WLANs, a WLAN's capacity will be boosted.

AirFlow says it changed its business model because it faced a kind of WLAN arms race in the crowded switch market. "If we were going to maintain a systems business [selling switches to enterprise customers], we'd have to build out an international sales organization, spend money on marketing, staff up technical support, and spend money trying to duplicate all the features and functions that a dozen other vendors have," says Brian Jenkins, VP of marketing.

In January, AirFlow packaged its software on a third-party chip, offering it as a "WLAN switch-on-a-chip", which now can be purchased as a daughter card for an Ethernet switch or gateway, or as a chip that vendors incorporate into their processor boards. Alternatively, vendors can license the AirFlow software and run it on a merchant chip of their own choice.