The only certainty in WLAN switches and gateways is the future is uncertain. Gartner expects that by the end of 2005, 80 percent of the startups in this space will fall victim to acquisition or failure, according to Rachna Ahlawat, principal analyst at Gartner.

Enterprises and startups alike are looking to Cisco, which has the lion's share of APs in the market. Cisco says it is on the verge of releasing an upgrade to its WLSE (Wireless LAN Solution Engine) product, which will add such features as RF (radio frequency) management capabilities and rogue AP detection. Ahlawat said that Cisco's product doesn't offer as many features as those from the startups. Ultimately, Cisco may go the route of switch makers Extreme Networks and Foundry Networks, which have both developed switches that will accommodate wired Ethernet and wireless access points.

With the major switch players in the game, startup WLAN switch makers will have some tough competition. But if they continue to offer innovative capabilities, they can survive, Ahlawat says. The gateway vendors, on the other hand, appeal today to enterprises that already have a lot of APs. "But when companies start buying APs that are integrated into the switch, they'll have to redirect," she says.

Vernier Networks says tackling RF management, one of the main differentiators between gateways and WLAN switch vendors, is a matter of timing. For now, Doug Klein, Vernier's CTO, believes the first step is to help enterprises manage security and user profiles. RF management will come next as enterprises need to manage a growing number of APs. "RF becomes interesting if you have a reasonable-size network. But the practical truth is, enterprises don't have them yet," he says.