Wireless LAN vendors unveiled an array of software improvements to their core systems software at this week's Interop Las Vegas trade show.

Several of the improvements are around location-tracking technologies. In general, the new software reflects the intent to make WLAN a more integral part of the corporate network infrastructures, and to make it a foundation for new network-based services, such as locating and tracking assets, wireless VOIP, and bridging between wireless VOIP and cellular networks.

Among the announcements:

  • Aruba has released new code for its mobile access point, adding a built-in firewall and split tunneling to route data traffic locally to other wireless clients.
  • Bluesocket's new software image for its controller family creates for the first time a consistent software platform for that product line
  • Cisco adds code and a new application that make it possible for network administrators to managed groups of wireless controllers in very large enterprise WLANs.
  • Meru, Siemens and Motorola have added software-based location tracking capabilities to their WLANs; while WhereNet released a new wireless tracking tag that can use two wireless technologies: 802.11 (Wi-Fi) or ISO 24730 RFID.
  • NextHop Technologies has released a version of its Wi-Fi software (for controllers and access points) that makers of PBXs, wireless routers, and other network gear can use to add 802.11 data and control capabilities to "anything with a CPU and memory."

Aruba gains mobility and voice

Aruba announced its Mobile Access Point (MAP) last year as a portable access point that could be used from a hotel, coffee shop or home network to create an encrypted tunnel back to the corporate LAN. The new software adds to the MAP a stateful firewall, that can enforce corporate authentication and network access control policies for the remote user. It can also perform what Aruba calls "split tunneling" that switches traffic to a local wireless printer or another laptop without going through a central Aruba controller. The MAP software ships in July.

Aruba also demonstrated at Interop a feature that lets the Aruba wireless controller bridge a voice call from the WLAN to a cellular net on its own, instead of handing off that bridging task off to the corporate IP PBX. The Aruba controller works on one side with a dual-mode (Wi-Fi and cellular) mobile phone making a call over a Wi-Fi connection, and on the other with a Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) server that's part of an IP PBX, and a SIP gateway to the public switched telephone network (PSTN). The PBX is used for signaling and call control, but the controller and gateway handle in effect the mechanics of the actual call.

If the user is passing out of Wi-Fi range, the controller detects the shift, and calls the user's mobile phone via the SIP gateway over the PSTN, eventually to a user's cellular provider. Once that call is completed, the controller bridges the voice session, and the user continues talking without interruption, over a cellular link. This "voice continuity" feature will be available in in late 2007 as a separate, and separately priced, software application for the Aruba controllers. Pricing is not available.

Bluesocket management gets better

Bluesocket's Version 6.1 of its controller software will rollout with the company's newest BlueSecure Controller (BSC) models in May and July. The new release offers the same core functions of security, management and mobility across all the new models, which were announced earlier this year. Among the new features are improved intrusion detection, automated daily checks of wireless clients for antispyware updates and better wireless diagnostics.

The BlueSecure Controller-600 and BSC-1200, respectively for up to 10 and 24 access points, will ship in May; the high-end BSC-7200, supporting up 300 access points, will ship in June.

Cisco improvements

isco has announced expanded location-tracking capabilities for its WLAN controller software, along with a new management application.

The new controller software, Unified Wireless Network 4.1, now integrates code from partners AeroScout and WhereNet, which offer wireless tracking tags and server software to plot highly accurate location for equipment and people wearing the radio tags. Both vendors offer what Cisco calls "chokepoint" systems, which are scanners that collect data from a passive RFID tag on, say, a medical infusion pump, and then pass it to a server application via a Cisco Wi-Fi connection.

Also new in the 4.1 release is the Cisco Compatability Extension (CCX) for Tags. Vendors such as AeroScout use the new CCX in place of their own proprietary protocol for communicating between their tags and backend systems. This means that Cisco access points and controllers can collect data from different third-party radio tags and pass it through to the Cisco Location Appliance or other applications for processing.

The 4.1 release now supports additional data about tagged equipment, beyond just location information. This new code can be used to send information about a tagged asset's condition, such as whether it was sterilized after use, when it was last stored, and about physical attributes such as temperature and vibration.

The new management application is Wireless Control System Navigator, which was developed to let network administrators centrally manage groups of Cisco controllers with up to 20,000 access points. In the past, administrators logged onto each controller separately. With the new application, you can group controllers based on location or other criteria, set common policies and configuration settings, and distribute those settings.

The new controller software is available on Cisco controllers, and is free to customers with software maintenance contracts. WCS Navigator is also available, priced at US$20,000.

Meru, Siemens, Wherenet, Motorola add location

Meru is partnering with an unnamed third-party wireless location vendor to offer what it will call the X(z)RF High-Fidelity Location Manager. This is a server application that draws data from Meru access points to calculate and plot the location of a wireless client, including radio asset-tracking tags. Location-related data funnels to the Meru controller, which in turn passes it on to the server application for processing. The new application will be available in June, with a list price of $14,000.

A similar arrangement was also announced by Siemens Communications, which is now reselling Ekahau's real-time location tracking system as part of its HiPath wireless line. The Ekahau Positioning Engine software calculates the location of Wi-Fi tags, up to 10,000 by one server. Siemens has also integrated the Ekahau Site Survey application into its HiGuard WLAN management suite.

WhereNet has developed what it calls the first "multi-mode" wireless tag: one tag with a Wi-Fi radio and support for passive RFID based on the ISO 24730 standard. As a result, the new WhereTag 4 can work with both types of infrastructure, using Wi-Fi in cases where a WLAN exists, and RFID readers where high-precision location accuracy is needed. The tag, using an integrated chip from G2 Microsystems, will be available in July, priced at $55, with volume discounts available.

Motorola also is adding location tracking to its RF7000 WLAN switch, along with improved radio frequency monitoring. The switch now can now make use of a group of access points to calculate location, increasing accuracy, and can use location data drawn from both Wi-Fi and passive RFID sources. The company has also completed the integration into its RF Management Suite of the radio planning tool from Wireless Valley, which Motorola acquired last year. Users work with the tool to plan a WLAN deployment. The map and data created by the planning application now is used by the management suite to monitor the network's health and troubleshoot problems.

Another code change lets Motorola access points handle data traffic at the same time they monitor the airwaves for wireless rogues or interference. The new systems software is available on the RF7000 product line.

Looking ahead, Motorola plans, like Aruba, to bridge between Wi-Fi and cellular voice calls. The company plans to start trials of this convergence capability later in 2007. Also later this year, Motorola will introduce a WLAN mesh protocol that will let data packets hop wirelessly through several access points to access the LANs.

NextHop adds wireless to network boxes

NextHop unveiled an ambitious plan to build WLAN capabilities into a broad array of network devices. The company's core WLAN software for access points and controllers was acquired several years ago from an early WLAN start-up called Legra Systems. NextHop has bundled this with its wired switch/routing software platform, which is widely used by Cisco rivals.

But now, NextHop has created a new software product, running in Linux servers, that allows the key WLAN control functions to be loaded into existing products such as IP PBXs, home wireless routers/gateways, in fact on any box with a processor and memory, according to NextHop executives.

A network vendor such as Ericsson could add the NextHop software to its own IP PBX, for example, allowing users to make a wireless VOIP handset call without having to use a separate vendor's WLAN as an overlay, says Paul Ahrens, NextHop's director of product marketing.

The software platform comes with an array of APIs to link with related third-party vendors of such things as VPNs and intrusion detection/prevention systems.

NextHop is offering two versions of the software, for enterprise equipment and for small-to-midsize business products. Availability and pricing will be announced later this year.