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Wireless vendors take control

Equipment makers at the NetWorld+Interop show tout new products and features that will make wireless infrastructures easier to control and manage.

LAS VEGAS--Wireless equipment makers are introducing new products and extensions to old gear that will make wireless infrastructures easier to control and manage.

"Wireless switch makers are automating a lot of the configuration and control that's needed to run a wireless network, so that humans don't have to become RF (radio frequency) experts," said Dave Passmore, an analyst with Burton Group. "And by doing this, it allows companies to build complex wireless infrastructures without a huge amount of expertise."

Ultimately, this added control will pave the way for more complex applications such as voice over Wi-Fi and customer relationship management programs.

During a keynote speech Wednesday at the NetWorld+Interop tradeshow here, Bill Nuti, CEO of Symbol Technologies, laid out his vision for pushing more applications out to mobile customers.

"Mobility isn't about building a wireless" local area network, Nuti said. "It's about the ability to capture and move information at the business level. We are at the point where we are moving computing and networking into the palms of end users."

Symbol, which was the first company to develop the concept of wireless switching, took a major step toward centralizing the management of its wireless products with two announcements at the show.

First, it introduced the Mobility Services Suite, which includes the Mobile Services Platform (MSP), a server that will centrally control the deployment of applications and services onto mobile devices. The new product also includes a software development kit that will allow third parties to write new applications that can be launched and controlled from the server. Finally, the product suite includes software agents that reside on remote and mobile devices that will allow the MSP to monitor and control those devices.

The initial version of the product will be used to help information technology managers remotely check devices' health and provide central configuration. For example, the technology will not only be able to monitor access points to make sure that radio frequency channels are tuned properly and power levels are acceptable, but it will also be able to monitor how much battery life is left in a mobile device.

In the future, the company plans to add other features and applications such as central security control, location tracking and voice enablement.

The idea of centralized control is nothing new. Start-ups such as Airespace and Aruba Wireless Networks have built their products on this concept. Cisco Systems, which recently announced a new wireless switching blade for the Catalyst 6500, also is starting to move in this direction.

Earlier this week, Airespace announced two enhancements to its product that should help wireless LAN operators expand the reach and performance of their networks as well as provide enhanced features for locating users on the network. The company introduced what it calls an intelligent access point. The new feature uses technology called MIMO (multiple input multiple output), which automatically switches between multiple antennas to get the clearest connection between the access point and the end device. The result is increased capacity on 802.11 networks.

"It's really a way to more efficiently use the radio spectrum that's available," said Alan Cohen, vice president of marketing for the company.

Airespace also has teamed with a radio frequency identification company called Bluesoft to come up with an 802.11 tag that can be placed on high value items, like complex manufacturing components. Using the tag, administrators can track these items via Airespace's wireless local area network.

"The new Wi-Fi switching features coming out are more than just management tools," Burton Group's Passmore said. "They are delivering coordinated solutions that allow for better control of the network."