Vendors face off in 11n ‘challenge’

When the wireless LAN controller architecture came into its own about half a decade ago, an exhausting, cutthroat features war ensued. Ding! It's now officially Round 2, with the industry this time in fisticuffs over Draft 2.0 802.11n system architectures and features.

But 802.11n is far more complex than its technical predecessors with many more optional components, making product comparisons a dizzying task. That’s why my colleague, Robin Layland, president of Layland Consulting, and I recently issued a challenge to the 802.11n industry, asking the vendors to specify just what primary value proposition(s) they bring to the table.

Six vendors participated: Cisco, Enterasys, Motorola, Proxim Wireless, Trapeze Networks and Xirrus. They have all submitted written responses to Part 1 of this challenge, describing their one or two capabilities they think outshine anyone else in the industry. Their work is published at Webtorials and is accessible here.

Part 2 – a series of panel discussions among the participating vendors – will be available by audiocast later this month. Both parts discuss important considerations and capabilities for deploying 802.11n in general and when considering a possible all-wireless office. The audiocast will allow us to ask clarifying questions and further challenge the participants on what’s real and what’s spin.

In general, we discuss the following evaluation criteria as they pertain to 802.11n in both parts of the challenge. These form a pretty good cheat sheet for you to keep on hand as you work toward creating an 802.11n vendor short list.

* Architecture: the centralized vs. distributed debate wages on even today. Hybrid solutions seem to be taking the lead.

* Performance in general and throughput in particular. How many megabits per second do you get consistently (emphasis on “consistently”)?

* High availability alternatives. Wireless can be flaky. If it’s going to become your primary LAN, how do you make sure it performs like Ethernet?

* Power requirements. Are there potential feature compromises using 802.3af?

* Which frequencies does the vendor support in the 5GHz band?

* Is there support for voice and video beyond 802.11e QoS standards?

* Security: Are there capabilities beyond 802.11i authentication and encryption standards, such as built-in firewalls and rogue monitoring?

* What’s the sophistication level of any built-in site survey and RF management tools?

* Services platform suitability: are there APIs for open development?

* TCO (no list would be complete without this evergreen).

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