Nortel is looking to introduce its own set of 802.11n wireless LAN products in 2008, as part of a strategy to create wholly wireless offices.
The company claimed it would pump a "significant increase" into R&D to design and build new multi-radio access points, and a new line of WLAN switches, though it did not specify how much new investment it would make. At the same time, Nortel said it would create integrated Ethernet switches to replace its dedicated wireless switches, with a switch family that can handle both wired and wireless client traffic.
The decision is a blow to Trapeze Networks, which has been Nortel's wireless equipment supplier for several years.
Nortel rebrands the Trapeze access points and switches, which enterprise customers deploy as an overlay network, with its own infrastructure, security and management separate from the wired network. Nortel said it will continue to OEM the Trapeze product until Nortel's products are available.
Although Nortel's new wireless products won't begin to appear until the latter half of 2008, the timing and the technologies make sense, says Chris Silva, analyst for enterprise wireless, Forrester Research. The draft IEEE 802.11n standard, which promises WLAN performance of 100M to 200Mbit/s initially, is going to level the WLAN playing field all over again, he says. Vendors will soon start delivering enterprise wireless gear based on draft 2 of the 802.11n standard, with the market for current gear shriveling in proportion.
"No one has a lock on the 11n market at this point," Silva says.
That being the case, Nortel's decision to take control of its WLAN future makes "good strategic sense," he says. "Nortel was buying someone else's technology and had no control over that development."
Currently, Nortel offers the 2300 series of WLAN access points and controllers from Trapeze, its own outdoor WLAN mesh nodes, and both fixed and mobile WiMAX radios, targeted at backhaul and longer-range mobile networking.
Nortel will design and introduce a multi-radio 802.11a/b/g/n access point, and the accompanying controllers, says Kyle Klassen, director of enterprise wireless marketing, for Nortel's enterprise converged data networking group.
At the same time, software engineers will be working to integrate the management and security of these new products with Nortel's existing offerings, so that enterprise customers will have a single interface from which to oversee and secure both wired and wireless nets, Klassen says.
The next step for this continued integration will be to create truly unified Ethernet switches that can handle both wired and wireless access. To do so, Nortel will take advantage of new silicon, possibly from chipmakers such as SiNett, and software, possibly from a vendor like NextHop.
Nortel may be able to exploit this product line in some particular ways. The company has been active in contributing technology to the WiMAX standard. It can marry 802.11n-based WLANs at multiple enterprise sites, with wider-area deployments over WiMAX links, and interconnect with municipal or other Wi-Fi mesh networks. The result could be a seamless and continuous connection between users with mobile voice and data devices and their corporate networks, Silva says. "Only Motorola [with its recent acquisition of WLAN vendor Symbol] and Nortel have this capability, and potentially Cisco," he says.
An example of what might be possible was demonstrated earlier this year at Nortel's Interop booth: using equipment implementing the IEEE 802.21 standard, Nortel and several partners showed mobile devices and their data applications being handed off seamlessly between WLAN, wired Ethernet and WiMAX networks, without interrupting sessions or having to relog onto the network, according to Klassen.
To do this, he says, new software has to be added to both client devices and to infrastructure gear such as radios and controllers. "This [handoff] takes place at a lower layer of the [software] stack, which means not just voice but also all my other applications can take advantage of this automatically."