Siemens has taken pity and swallowed Wi-Fi start-up Chantry Networks, clarifying a grey area in its converged office network strategy.

Just 18 months after launching its Layer 3 WLAN switch, Chantry has agreed to be acquired by Siemens Communications, the $24 billion network equipment arm of Siemens AG. The deal is expected to be finalised early next year.

Siemens had already been building a connection with Chantry, when its funding group, Siemens Venture Capital, contributed to a $17 million Series B funding round, and one of its partners took a seat on the start-up's board of directors. No details were revealed, but wireless source Unstrung quotes a "source familiar with the negotiation" as saying the deal cost around $85 million.

Siemens will adopt the Chantry BeaconWorks product, a switch with companion thin access points, as the WLAN element of its HiPath product line, according to Tom Racca, Chantry's vice president of marketing. HiPath is an IP-based converged office networking range aimed at enterprise customers and currently is heavily oriented toward IP-based telecommunications.

As an umbrella architecture, Hipath currently appears to include pretty much every kind of wireless communication known to man, though details are thin, particularly of a "HiPath WLAN server" which was mentioned in press releases for Cebit earlier this year. Companies such as Meru have certified their products as being "Hipath ready".

Racca says he expects Chantry will become a "Siemens company", with the Chantry product line being relabeled, as Siemens as done with other acquisitions. Siemens' other wireless interests include WiMax and Flash OFDM in its broadband access routers

The two companies have been involved in WLAN trials with several big customers, Racca says. Since early 2004, it has been extensively evaluating products from Chantry and other similar vendors, he said (perhaps explaining the lack of detail so far on the HiPath WLAN server).

Chantry is the latest WLAN vendor to fold or be acquired. Legra Systems recently sold off its assets to two other companies, and AirFlow Networks, having opted out of building WLAN products in favour of software early this year, is believed to be moribund. Meanwhile, appliance maker ReefEdge is clearly troubled, and not returning calls from the media.

In launching BeaconWorks in early 2003, Chantry described the device as a WLAN router, because it implemented a full range of Layer 3 capabilities. The device can, for example, route around failed nodes. Some rival WLAN switches worked mainly at Layer 2, with selected Layer 3 features such as quality-of-service controls, Chantry reckoned.

The device was designed for centralised deployment in the corporate data center, with a proprietary tunnelling protocol that could be used by hundreds of Chantry access points to tunnel through an existing IP backbone to reach the switch.

In recent months, like its rivals, Chantry had been creating bite-sized versions of its products for smaller companies, and emphasising the role its WLAN switch could play in wireless VoIP deployments. Routing features, along with traffic prioritisation and bandwidth management, and fast handoffs between access points and switches are vital to ensuring high-quality voice calls over a WLAN infrastructure.