With the IEEE 802.11g wireless specification finally ratified in June this year the dust can at last settle over what has been a mammoth modulation battle between Intersil and Texas Instruments (TI) since the first draft of this was posted way back in 2001. Intersil’s OFDM (orthogonal frequency division multiplexing) won the day and we can now look forward to a range of standards-based wireless products delivering 54Mbit/s in the 2.4GHz frequency range and backward compatibility with 802.11b products. So what has this got to do with Enterasys? Well, ever since it released its RoamAbout wireless products a couple of years ago it took the view that companies won’t want to be faced with a bewildering range of wireless options as vendors frantically try to keep in step with new developments. We saw a farcical situation last year when early 802.11a products were released into the UK that weren’t passed for use by the Radiocommunications Authority whilst other vendors pressed on with enhanced 802.11b products based on TI’s ACX100 chipset. In an attempt to avoid all this confusion Enterasys designed its products to be easily upgradeable to support new standards as they emerge. The RoamAbout Indoor package comprises a pair of access points along with a full range of PC Cards and workstations adapters while the Outdoor version adds point-to-multipoint support for connecting buildings together in a campus-wide wireless network. The RoamAbout package on review centres around the R2 access point which delivers exceptional build quality – no flimsy plastic chassis here, this is a mighty chunk of aluminium heatsink that looks tough enough to survive any business and public access environment. It accepts a single PC Card in a slot on the top panel but adding the optional mezzanine adapter allows two cards to be used simultaneously, making the R2 one of a small group of access points. Enterasys recently announced multi-mode wireless PC Cards, which means the company can now simultaneously deliver 802.11a, 802.11g and 802.11b services. Plenty of choices are on offer for installation, configuration and management as you can use a local terminal emulation session via the R2’s serial port. The CLI (command line interface) is well designed and simple enough to use, or you can opt for remote browser access instead which mirrors the CLI commands but in a more friendly fashion. However, Enterasys would like you to use its AP Manager as this is designed to manage multiple access points. Access point configurations can be standardized as AP Manager runs comparisons on all units to check that firmware versions and encryption settings are consistent. Access points can be placed in different groups for easier management and password protected profiles are used to store a complete range of parameters for each one. You can easily deploy regular WEP key changes across the entire network with one action while load balancing will prove useful with multiple access points as clients will be forced to associate with the least busy unit. Plenty of status information is provided as you can check on the identities of connected clients and view overall traffic statistics. Security is a strong point with support for SNMPv3 and 802.1x port authentication already implemented and Enterasys has confirmed that it will support the new 802.11i standard as well. A Rapid Rekeying feature keeps things even tighter as it can be set to automatically regenerate encryption keys as often as every minute. The PC Cards are just as well built and as easy to install and the bundled client utility can manage multiple local configurations for different operational modes. As you’d expect site survey and diagnostics tools are provided and you can keep a close eye on performance with a range of link test graphs. Many wireless products released over the past year have been nothing more than knee-jerk reactions as the standards staggered from one potential solution to another with the result that some companies have locked themselves into proprietary technologies. With a bit of forethought at the design stage the RoamAbout range has neatly avoided this dilemma by delivering a wireless solution with a core component that can be upgraded simply by plugging in new PC Cards as they become available.

OUR VERDICT

There’s no denying the wireless landscape has been a mess over the past few years with different standards causing major headaches as companies try to decide the best route to take. The Enterasys solution is a simple one and a clear winner for companies deploying a large wireless network who require tight security, quality remote management tools and unbeatable build quality.