Network vendor Zyxel has played down the prospects of 802.11n fast Wi-Fi in business, at the launch of a "channel blanket" wireless switch for medium-sized companies, and a chassis switch for the big boys.
The NXC-8160 is based on technology from Extricom, as announced last November, and represents an endorsement for the blanket approach that puts all the access points on the same Wi-Fi channel. Extricom, and now Zyxel, claim this gives better performance by removing the hand-over delay between access points and doing away with the need to plan coverage by Wi-Fi cells, so networks are more reliable and easier to set-up.
"We could have launched a me-too product, but we decided to take it further," said James Walker, Zyxel product manager. Switches form the likes of Trapeze and Aruba are for "price-sensitive" people, who just want centralised administration for wireless access points, he said, and Zyxel wanted to move on to a new generation, offering a more reliable network for companies where it is mission critical.
"We cover off the pain point people have experienced with other technology," said Walker. "If we compete on price with a centralised AP controller, we won't win." The blanket switch is 20 to 30 percent more expensive than a comparable centralised switch, he said, but suitable for difficult RF environments such as warehouses and factories, and for people that need to handle roaming Wi-Fi voice.
A business with 40 to 50 users, on two floors of a building, would need one switch costing £1800 with eight access points costing £220 totalling £3520.
Although the access points have two radios, in 2.4GHz and 5GHz, it's not going to go to 802.11n fast Wi-Fi any time soon, said Walker, even though draft 2.0 of the standard is now stable and the basis of a branding programme from the Wi-Fi Alliance.
For one thing, it will take more work to get 802.11n into the blanket technology - while centralised switches use standard access points, blanket systems have to have a MAC layer rewritten to run on the central switch.
But he thinks the benefits of 802.11n in business are being oversold: "We see massive demand from consumers and home users, but there's going to be a slow take-up in business." The full 300 Mbit/s signal speed is only available when double-width 40MHz channels are used, he said. Traditional Wi-Fi switches can't do this, because they need non-overlapping channels in adjacent cells.
The company also took a surprise step into enterprise network territory with a chassis switch, that can go up to 48 Gigabit ports in the six slots available, and will compete on price and support with Cisco's 6500, HP's 5300/5400 and 3Com's 7700. The ports can be copper or fibre, and can have power-over-Ethernet (only on copper, obviously). The switch can distribute L3 switching within a blade, so traffic doesn't always have to come to the fabric.
Although Zyxel has focussed on smaller businesses, it's bid for large switches is less surprising than at first sight, since it already is a major player in the DSLAM (DSL access module) market, Walker explained.
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