Wireless start-up Legra has launched switches which integrate wireless networks into LANs more securely. Legra believes its wireless switches will be more attractive to enterprises than similar products from Aruba, Trapeze and others, because it has paid more attention to the biggest barrier to corporate acceptance of wireless LANs - security. The product is available in the US, so far, but will launch in Europe in the first half of 2004, selling through third parties.

Legra marketing vice president Paul deBeasi boasts that Legra has deliberately created a switch that is "as boring as the wired network" - a response to a genuine customer request, he says. The company's official slogan is less contentious: "Most like a wired LAN".

Despite striving for boredom, the Legra announcement is peppered with several claimed firsts and trademarks, the most significant of which is probably a parallel cryptography chip, CryptoFlex, which encrypts and decrypts four traffic streams simultaneously. "In most wireless networks, encryption and decryption happen at the radio," said deBeasi. "When you turn on encryption, you see a performance degradation of 50 percent." The Legra product passes encrypted traffic across the network to the switch where it is decrypted - the CryptoFlex chip avoiding a bottleneck.

This has two other benefits, said deBeasi. Encryption key information is kept in the wiring closet, rather than in a vulnerable access point, and centralising encryption makes the network more future-proof: "There are tremendous changes in wireless cryptography coming, and customers that deploy it in the radio run the risk of having to replace radios at some point in the future." The CryptoFlex chip is built from field programmable gate arrays, so any changes can be downloaded and installed, he added.

Otherwise, Legra's system has the basic attributes of most switched wireless integration products: a central wireless switch handles all management and control for "thin" access points. Like other advanced switched wireless solutions, Legra's LS2012 switch can control access points remotely across a network (in Legra's case across a routed network of layer 3 switches and routers) so the access points do not all need to be connected directly to the switch. The Legra switch has ports for 12 directly connected switches and can also manage 60 more connected remotely.

The system applies priority to switching and also to cryptography, giving better quality of service, which will support enterprise applications and even voice over IP, said deBeasi. It also provides fault tolerance. The LS2012 switch also has a Linux-based operating system (which Legra calls WOS), running on a built in processor with its own hard disk so the switch can run its own applications for jobs like intrusion detection and billing. Legra calls this a "wireless switch application engine"). It also includes a wireless network processor.

There are two access points, one of which supports 802.11b, the other supports 802.1a/g (with b as a fallback, of course). They are connected with Legra's RemoteRadio protocol - which deBeasi promises will migrate to the LWAPP protocol currently under development in the IETF standards body.

"Once [LWAPP] is standardised and deployed, users will be able to buy radios and switches from any vendor that supports LWAPP," said deBeasi. Products would be distinguished on management and other features. Legra is one of the authors of the draft protocol, along with Airespace and NTT DoCoMo, and discussion is continuing: "LWAPP can be a Layer Two protocol or a Layer Three protocol," said deBeasi. Legra is arguing for a Layer Two protocol, which would include the abilities of a Layer Two protocol, but work across routed networks. However, the standard is being opposed by vendors such as Cisco that want to keep intelligence in the access point. "There are forces working against LWAPP," said deBeasi.

For larger installations, where there are several switches, Legra has second tier of management, in an appliance, the LM6000, which handles provisioning and monitoring centrally - "just like an element manager in a wired network," said deBeasi. It also has a plug-in optimiser application that automatically scans the radio network, looking for interference and rogue access points.

"2003 has been the year of hype," said deBeasi. "IT managers need time to understand. They are looking for something like the wired network, with performance, ease of use and ease of deployment." Legra plans to expand, based on customer response, he said.

The company does not quote prices, as all sales are through third parties, but a starter kit including a switch and "several" radios would cost around $10k, said deBeasi.