Proxim WLAN technology looks towards central management; prices cut

by Guy Kewney | posted on 29 January 2003

Being number two to Cisco in the wireless LAN business isn't good enough for Proxim, and this week marks a determined effort to knock the leader off its pinnacle. Not just price cuts; but also, a new, centrally managed range with matching software. Will Cisco respond?

Guy Kewney

The actual announcement today was just a price cut, on a pretty new piece of very ordinary kit: a WLAN access point - the Orinoco range, not the top-end Harmony. The products are the AP-2000 and AP-2500 access points. "These price reductions make Proxim's Orinoco Access Points the most affordable enterprise-class systems available," said the company, hopefully.

Additionally, it has moved into the 54g market pioneered by Broadcomm, with an 802.11(pre)g standard upgrade.

The Orinoco brand has become enterprise-level, not just because it's rather more costly than many equivalent far-Eastern commodity access point ranges, but also because the market has changed, says product manager Jan Haagh.

"It's the public access point business, and the new enterprise access business," Haagh told NewsWireless Net today. "The Harmony range is the normal, centrally-switched one; we have plans to advance that technology with our Maestro developments, which we'll announce next week. But this announcement is aimed at the mainstream."

Haagh believes that IT managers need to be able to justify buying the Proxim range. "We're substantially cheaper, now, than Cisco. The thing is there are access points already on the market, coming from Taiwan, low prices, but not enterprise class functionality - which is both security and management. If you really look at enterprise class, Proxim is one of the players; with this price drop, we become more affordable for IT managers who need those features."

The AP2000 is dual-standard; it takes ordinary PC Card adapters for 802.11a and 11b; and with today's announcement, 11g as well.

"The AP-2000 11g Upgrade Kit lets customers easily add speeds of 54Mbps to new and/or existing systems with backwards compatibility to 802.11b," said today's announcement. This is the first of several 802.11g products to be announced over the coming weeks "and reflects the company's commitment to provide the multi-standard functionality demanded by the market."

The logic of switching massively from 11b to 11g is seen as compelling. Dual-standard 11a/11b kit can be converted to dual-standard 11a/11g kit simply by pulling out low-cost adapter cards, thus increasing speed and coverage.

Some installers don't approve of the idea of dual 11a/11g - they say that the coverage patterns aren't the same, and you need more 11a points. Haagh doesn't accept this. "I don't agree; yes, you need more APs for 11a perhaps, I'd agree there. But in terms of placement of the access point, it's pretty much the same spot," he insisted.

"The only thing you have to make sure of; if you want dual mode infrastructure, is to make sure to space them so that the 11a clients can benefit from the full 54 megabits from any spot. So it means you are kind of giving over lapping cells in 11b. You can artificially make cells smaller by AP density feature we have on 11b; whichmakes it easy to deploy same frequency channels."

The Maestro technology announcement is due next week. It won't be a product range, but it will be an Orinoco product, possibly leading to the eventual disappearance of the Harmony brand.