Despite the recession, wireless LAN manufacturers are banking on 2009 being the year enterprises migrate to 802.11n technology. VARs will see leading vendors introduce new hardware and management applications this year aimed at spurring that migration.
This week, Cisco is launching a package of 802.11n wireless LAN (WLAN) technology, including a new access point (AP) and management applications that use beam-forming and frequency management technology to ease the transition to 802.11n.
This new package of products also offers VARs a fresh revenue opportunity through a newly developed set of migration services for customers upgrading their existing WLANs to 802.11n.
Cisco has geared its latest release to both new and existing customers that can now slowly integrate 802.11n technology into their existing WLAN networks. Central to the release is the 802.11n Cisco Aironet 1140 Series AP, which has dual radio and offers nine times the throughput of older APs, according to Chris Kozup, Cisco senior manager of mobility solutions. The APs also have built-in security functions and work with Power over Ethernet, decreasing power consumption and nixing the extensive power wiring once required for so-called wireless systems.
The AP is accompanied by M-Drive and ClientLink system-wide applications. The software enables beam-forming, which better directs frequencies to users as they are moving. ClientLink provides automated detection of coverage holes, enabling the beam to be better directed. The applications also ensure load balancing and channel sharing, even extended to existing non-802.11n devices. Cisco claims the applications pump up performance of legacy devices by as much as 65%.
"What we're delivering here allows us to extend the useful life of aging devices that will get better performance," Kozup said. "A lot of companies degrade legacy devices in order to improve new devices … they give two channels to legacy clients and give the rest to new clients. They have no other way to improve performance for legacy clients."
Analysts agree that the release is a big leap forward for Cisco. Farpoint Group principal analyst Craig Mathias said beam-forming is an important improvement, as is frequency management. "Drop-in replacements" for network migration are also crucial.
But Cisco will see competition this year. Analysts say the company made sure to be first in what is expected to be a big year for WLAN innovation and new technology releases.
Mathias expects a number of other companies to release beam-forming technology. Ruckus Wireless already uses the technology on a much smaller scale. Burton Group senior analyst Paul DeBeasi expects to see a number of innovations in "radio resource management" for better performance.
"It's going to be difficult for customers to determine who's doing what," DeBeasi said. Still, Cisco won't get lost in the shuffle considering the company owns the lion's share of this market, he said.
But even Cisco's strong channel will face the challenge of convincing customers to make a major infrastructure investment mid-recession.
"I've been convincing people [that] if they are going to invest they should invest in 'N' because it's so far superior," DeBeasi said. "But having Wi-Fi in the building is like any other infrastructure investment -- people are deferring in general."
On a brighter note, Mathias is projecting only a 5% drop in WLAN investment during the recession, and he questions whether even that will happen.
"Everybody is moving to wireless," he said. "That is going to be the standard default."
Channel partners are already strategizing on how to get the migration message across to customers.
"There is only one way partners can properly instill the importance of migrating to 802.11n … understanding the customer's core business, [then explaining] trends in the marketplace that affect that business; how migrating will help, and [that there is a] cost of not doing anything," said John Yrigoyen, director of wireless solutions at Irving, Texas-based VAR NEC Unified Solutions.
The trends Yrigoyen is referring to are the boom in wireless devices entering the enterprise and the demand by those mobile users for LAN-like speeds to handle all their voice, video and data applications.
But there is also a message to get to new WLAN customers when it comes to pushing the more expensive 802.11n technology.
"Making the decision to migrate to 'N' after the fact will cause considerable disruption and downtime while struggling to migrate in a 'reactive' mode," Yrigoyen said. "The added disruption, downtime and frustration this causes equates to more dollars and cycles being spent in order to bring stability and efficiency to the WLAN."
Since the new wireless package was a "channel first" program, a number of channel partners have already been trained on the technology and in offering migration services. Kozup and Yrigoyen expect VARs to find big opportunity in providing migration services going forward.
Cisco M-Drive Technology is currently available as a software upgrade for existing Cisco Unified Wireless Network customers. The ClientLink feature is scheduled to be available to customers in the first half of 2009 as a part of their Cisco SMARTnet support agreements. The Cisco Aironet 1140 is available at a list price of $1,299. There is also an option to buy a 10-unit Eco-Pack for $12,990.