Symbol Technologies plans to pull the whole gamut of wireless technologies, including Wi-Fi, WiMax and RFID into one system.

The Wi-NG (Wireless Next Generation) architecture, announced at Interop in Las Vegas, takes the concept of a wireless LAN switch, which puts Wi-Fi access points under central control, and extends it to RFID (radio frequency identification), Wi-Fi voice calling and other technologies, said Chris McGugan, senior director of marketing for wireless infrastructure at Symbol.

Wi-NG will eventually handle WiMax systems and interact with cellular networks, and Symbol could extend it to other technologies such as ZigBee, a short-range, low-power wireless technology, McGugan said. Interference, device handoffs between networks, and centralised management are among the challenges it is designed to tackle.

The centrepiece of Wi-NG, a multi-technology device called an RF switch, won't actually arrive till the end of the year, but in the meantime, Symbol is presenting software upgrades to its existing product range as steps towards Wi-NG. New software - coming for the AP5131 access points by July and for its WS5100 wireless switch in September.

The AP5131s will gain the ability to form a wireless mesh network that can reach difficult-to-wire areas. The WS5100 will gain Layer 3 switching capability, which allows for multiple subnets within a building or campus.

Also in September, the company will introduce RF management software that can show what's happening deep in an enterprise's radio environment, such as coverage strength.

Combined Wi-Fi and RFID networks aren't really needed in typical enterprises, though they could be useful in specialised environments such as retail stores and factory floors, said Gartner analyst Rachna Ahlawat. In those settings, RFID collects asset information and Wi-Fi can transmit that data, sometimes on one device. Combining networks could help solve management headaches, she said.

In offices, Symbol's announcement has more to do with finally delivering a Layer 3 wireless switch, which competitors such as Cisco Systems are already offering, Ahlawat said. Layer 3 switches are needed in office buildings to handle many clients roaming among floors, she said.

A key feature of the Wi-NG architecture is the ability for clients to roam among Wi-Fi access points and on to other networks at the right time. Rather than letting a client device stay connected to one access point until the connection goes very weak, "switch-assisted roaming" can make the shift happen when the access point reaches a certain load or the application the client is running can't be supported.

Wi-NG can also apply that roaming intelligence to moves from one type of network to another, though the full capability will come only with Symbol clients, McGugan said. One piece of Wi-NG will be the ability to carry a combination Wi-Fi and cell phone into the office and have a call automatically move onto the wireless LAN. Symbol will use client software from startup DiVitas Networks - also working with Trapeze - to make this happen. Any dual-mode device with the client will be able to do a basic handoff, he said.

The new software for the AP5131 and WS5100 will be free to currently supported customers. The RF management platform will cost about US$1,000. Pricing has not been set for the RF switch. All the products will be available worldwide.