The wireless LAN business is still exciting, but the breathless claims of a few years ago have gone away. We spoke to Dominic Orr chief executive of Aruba, about the way the industry is shaping up.
Two years ago, when we met Aruba's then chief executive, Don LeBeau, he said the economics were "overwhelming" for a shift from Ethernet to wireless in the office. It hasn't taken off to the extent he predicted. How important is this?
Well, we aren't counting on Ethernet replacement to make our numbers. I don't see that a lot of companies will go all wireless yet. It comes down to the relative portion that is wireless - a lot of companies are on ten percent but the paradigm will shift.
The key application is voice. Even in Aruba's head office, we are all-wireless for data, but we still have wired phones, and a wired voice PBX.
Smaller offices or branches will go wireless first. Big organisations such as financial institutions, are setting up remote offices and tearing them down on a weekly basis, and a lot of the lead time is in cabling. Wireless lets you eliminate the cables, but it has to handle voice as well, or it's superfluous.
Retail, and hospitals are environments where mobility is part of the job. There are too many proprietary wireless systems, and organisations need to put it all in one single IT infrastructure.
So wireless is still strong in its traditional markets. Does this explain the continued strength of Symbol?
If you look at the retail space as a single application, involving barcodes and PoS terminals, Symbol is the infrastructure provider as well as the application and device provider. But the trend is towards multiple applications, and the feedback we get from customers is that they are looking for an IT infrastructure provider, otherwise they have three networks for three applications.
Our scale and security features differentiate us. Symbol is good for small and medium size businesses.
If users want an infrastructure provider, will they buy from Cisco, or one of the other network vendors with a reseller deal on a wireless switch, rather than from Aruba?
Are people looking for a pure wireless infrastructure using Wi-Fi as an extension of their wired environment, or are they looking for mobility? The difference is like cordless phones versus mobile phones.
Cisco's offering uses wireless to extend its wired offering, but security and other features are still on the basis of port addresses, no different form the old wired environment. This is a small market compared to that opened up by the move from fixed to mobile. But suppliers will have to deal with users not port addresses.
Policies have to be set on a user basis, not an IP address, so the user gets a single experience, in the office or outside it. That's the battle Aruba will be fighting, to give the user mobility, not just cordlessness.
If true mobility is important to wireless VoIP, are you talking about convergence, and how important is the arrival of dual-mode handsets?
I see three applications. A single mode Wi-Fi phone puts voice on an IP stack and allows new applications within the office. Dual-mode phones without fixed-mobile convergence can be used in two modes. I'm not betting on fixed-mobile convergence: it's still problematic outside Japan.
The newer handsets have better quality and battery life, and allow the creation of new applications. Our first application is a single voice mailbox, for mobile and VoIP calls.
What's your opinion of Trapeze?
They mostly show up at the high end of the medium size business. A lot of their equipment goes through the channel [Nortel, 3Com, Enterasys and others sell Trapeze kit] so those people cannot differentiate on features. What else is there? Price.
Surely that applies to all wireless switch vendors. None of the main wireless switch vendors have updated their technology in a big way this year, Your margins must be due to erode.
If you look at the basic management and configuration of wireless access points, you can argue that there will be a price erosion in that segment. But when you get into voice, security, policy and larger scale management, we haven't seen any price pressure.
Higher in the enterprise, complexity grows alinearly. There is more technology to add, and few people who can do it. We have seven software modules on top of our platform, for applications like security, location and content filtering. Essentially, we are a layer 4 to 7 switch with a policy engine.
With all that bundled in, how long do wireless security specialists, like AirMagnet and Network Chemistry, with their dedicated probes and servers, have to live?
Anything to do with detection of the signal in the air will eventually be embedded in the access point, particularly when the density of APs gets high. The only exception where dedicated probes will be required is the government market - and we can make dedicated probes by clipping a wire.
Wireless security companies will focus on post-processing, archiving, trend analysis and reporting. They'll do super-duper trend analysis - of data collected by our APs.
So RF security companies become software companies? That used to be the prediction for Aruba - that your technology would migrate to wired switches and handle RF issues in software. Is that going to happen?
People spoke too soon. In fact, the scale dramatically increased. It's one thing to control up to a dozen guests on a wireless network, and another to support 800 engineers who don't have a wired port anymore.