Bluesocket has launched a scaled-down wireless security gateway and defended its gateway approach to enterprise Wi-Fi in the face of more successful competitors.

The WG-400 is designed for smaller offices and can support up to 50 users on up to eight access points. However, wireless switches have put a question mark over the use of gateways through sheer market share.

"We are very much on a par with [wireless switch vendors like Airespace]," said Mike Puglia, director of product management at Bluesocket. "We have over 1,000 different end user customers." The new branch office product is better tailored to smaller office needs than the competition, he argued.

The WG-400, which starts at £1,795, is a scaled down version of Bluesocket's 1000-user WG-5000. Four access points can be connected directly to it, while another four can connect indirectly. It can be put in a small company's office, or in a branch of a larger company and managed centrally.

It includes the authentication, policy enforcement, and management features of the more powerful devices - and Bluesocket also announced an improved version of the BlueView management software, to support up to 100 Wi-Fi gateways.

The branch office has become an important area for Wi-Fi vendors to go for, with several approaches to the problem (read Wi-Fi vendors approach the branch office). At the low end, these include SonicWall's idea of building a single wireless access point into a standalone firewall, while wireless switch vendors including Symbol, Airespace and Trapeze have come out with small versions of their products, to handle up to four access points.

Despite being the last of the major enterprise Wi-Fi players to launch a branch product, Bluesocket is not late: "Everyone has announced products, but we are shipping at the same time as Airespace," said Puglia.

Bluesocket's approach to Wi-Fi - a security gateway rather than a wireless switch - has the advantage of working with any access points, but limitations when it comes to features such as location and rogue detection which work better when a whole system from one vendor is installed.

The gateway approach can look somewhat old-fashioned when, according to this quarter's market research figures (read WLAN switches - the numbers game). Bluesocket has 5.7 percent of the market, but gateway products have been overtaken by the newer product type, wireless switches.

However, wireless switch vendors' revenues are bulked up by access points, which Bluesocket does not sell, Puglia points out. "It's not an apples-to-apples comparison." Bluesocket itself is looking to profit from the difficulties of its peers, with a 50 percent rebate offered to customers trading-in kit from troubled appliance maker ReefEdge.

One of the first to come out with a wireless gateway, ReefEdge, has been viewed by many as the leader in the security gateway part of the Wi-Fi market, but is now impossible to contact. Commentator Om Malik says "I have consistently tried to get in touch with them, with all phone calls going to a general voice mail box. The PR people have not returned my phone calls and neither has the CEO."

Synergy Research gave it 7.5 percent of the overall wireless switch/appliance market last quarter, a figure which bugs Puglia: "Those numbers may be a bit 'unaudited'," he said. The trade-in programme grew out of concerns that users had been expressing to Bluesocket, he said: "We've been picking up disatisfaction," he said. "We haven't seen a lot of ReefEdge in the last six months."