Enterasys Gets a Jump on New Wireless LAN Standard

But Cisco claims that 802.11a isn't ready

While equipment that supports 802.11a, the forthcoming 54M bit/sec. wireless LAN standard, won't likely be available for deployment until sometime next year, one vendor has decided to jump in early, to the chagrin of its competitors.

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Wireless LAN
Specifications

802.11: Up to 2M bit/sec.
2.4-GHz frequency range
802.11b: Up to 11M bit/sec.
2.4-GHz frequency range
802.11a: Up to 54M bit/sec.
5-GHz frequency range


Enterasys Networks Inc. in Rochester, N.H., said it will introduce this summer a wireless LAN access hub called the RoamAbout R2 that supports the new standard.

Wireless LAN hubs receive and transmit wireless signals between the end user and the wired LAN. Most existing hubs use the 802.11b IEEE specification, which supports wireless traffic at 11M bit/sec. But according to Enterasys, its new device is a dual-slot chassis that will hold not only the 802.11b card, but also a yet-to-be-released 802.11a card.

Enterasys promoted its device at Networld+Interop two weeks ago, which seems to have riled competitors. Last week, Cisco Systems Inc. issued a statement specifically addressing the Enterasys announcement and told Computerworld that it doesn't believe 801.11a is ready for prime time.

Wireless LAN provider Proxim Inc. in Sunnyvale, Calif., weighed in last week, saying it would incorporate 802.11a into its Harmony line of 802.11b products by selling 802.11a-specific access hubs instead of dual-slot hubs that handle both specifications. Proxim's reasoning: 802.11a won't likely transmit as far as 802.11b, which means a dual-slot approach could leave holes in wireless coverage.

James Wiedel, director of networking at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles and an Enterasys wireless LAN customer, called Cisco's reaction "typically Cisco," noting that, "Cisco always wants all of your business."

Wiedel has already ordered some RoamAbout R2s. "They'll let us run 11b now, and in the future, all we have to do is drop in an 11a unit, and it will run it, too," he said.

Wiedel said he's concerned that Cisco will end up with a proprietary 802.11a system that works only with other Cisco equipment.

J.P. Garvin, assistant director of information systems at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health in Baltimore, disagreed. While the 11M bit/sec. wireless Cisco Aironet system he has installed to serve 1,500 students does include mostly Cisco network interface cards, he said he also tested 802.11b cards from Dell Computer Corp. and from Agere Systems Inc. in Allentown, Pa., with the Cisco wireless access hubs.

"They work just fine with the Aironet," Garvin said.

John Smolek, a research analyst at IDC in Framingham, Mass., said the faster 802.11a specification might be right for high-bandwidth applications but isn't necessarily appropriate for those that require the longer reach of 802.11b.

An Enterasys spokesman said that RoamAbout R2 will list for $1,900 per access point with transceiver cards in both chassis slots and will be available in July. But the 802.11a card won't ship until late this year or the first quarter of next year.

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