Here's a surprise. A couple of months ago we were ready to write off Wi-Fi vendor Bluesocket; now, here it is - winning a group test at our sister publication.
Network World tested a line-up of four of the more interesting vendors, and came up with some interesting results. But first, how come they only had Bluesocket, Siemens, Aerohive and Motorola in a "Clear Choice" group test of 802.11n network kit?
Wireless LAN vendors are never very co-operative on group tests. They tend to be happier sitting on the sidelines, slating each other's abilities. Getting four vendors together is a big achievement, especially when the previous edition of this test, in 2006, started with two contenders, and only one completed it. So I'm mightily impressed by Network World's success in getting four vendors through the mill.
The overall result is that 802.11n actually does work. But where are the big players? Every single one of them ducked it. No Aruba, no Cisco and no Trapeze… and also no Meru, the vendor on the fringe of the top division. If you read Network World's account, the big three all pretty much refuse to give a reason why.
Do I smell an organised boycott? Maybe. Except for the fact that these people all hate each other so much, they'd probably never co-operate, even on a walk-out. I guess they all felt they had nothing to prove, since they all have 802.11n case studies, and plenty to lose if they lost out to some upstarts.
Even without these people, we're left with an interesting bunch - basically, the vendors who DO have something to prove. We thought Bluesocket was dead, as it's more or less pulled out of Europe, but it recently woke up and told us it has good 802.11n kit - and Network World seems to agree.
Siemens claimed to have solved the problem of running 802.11n at full speed using standard power over Ethernet. Our colleagues agree with that too - giving the product the top mark for power efficiency. The product originated at start-up Chantry, which Siemens acquired; now Network World reports that it's likely to be picked up by Enterasys, which now has a joint venture with Siemens.
Aerohive has a lot to prove: it dumped the controller in most enterprise Wi-Fi systems, in favour of a distributed system which it says is more suited to the high speeds of 802.11n because there are no bottlenecks. Again, Network World agrees - the system was fast but a bit rough round the edges.
The Motorola product is a major reworking of the oldest WLAN controller family in the industry - originally from Symbol Systems. Despite its heritage, Motorola was very late to 802.11n, earlier this year, but says it's going to leapfrog the industry, with an architecture that will include other radios such as WiMax. In the Network World test, it wasn't quite ready, but improved as the Motorola engineers tweaked it.
Overall, the message is that 802.11n wireless LANs do work - with speeds up to ten times as fast as 802.11g, and there's a lot of choice in the field.
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