Zyxel bridge offers safe passage to the wireless outdoors

Zyxel's new wireless bridge enables companies to stretch wireless LANs where they never could before, for just a fraction of the price of competing products. Analysts say the product offers reasonable quality, though companies should still be wary of security risks.

One of the most attractive aspects of wireless LANs is that they stretch the limits of connectivity, enabling users to access information from outdoor locations where they never could before. However, turning that dream into reality isn't always cheap.

Zyxel Communications Corp. recently announced the availability of a low-cost wireless bridge that makes this functionality affordable for small businesses.

The product, the ZyAIR B-3000 Secure Wireless Bridge/Repeater, enables wireless LAN access points to transmit data to one another over the air. This can help a company that, for example, may have an outdoor wireless node that it does not want to run cable to, said Tim Templeton, senior channel sales manager for the Hsinchu, Taiwan-based broadband products company.

A wireless bridge can also be helpful in older buildings where running cable is prohibitively expensive, or in places where cable can't easily reach, like in an elevator, said Tim Scannell, president of the Quincy, Mass.-based consultancy Shoreline Research.

One of the biggest concerns about using this approach in a wireless LAN needs to be security, Scannell said, since wireless LANs already are tempting targets for hackers. Because of wireless bridges, users transmit that much more data over the airwaves, which just opens the door further to hackers.

Zyxel's product uses 256-bit WEP encryption and Internet protocol security (IPsec) for its bridge.

This kind of product is not new. Many vendors, including 3Com Corp., Proxim Corp. and others have similar offerings. The difference is pricing.

For example, 3Com's Wireless LAN Outdoor Bridge Solution lists at $1,199. The ZyAIR product sells for a fraction of that at $199.

Tolunay Orkun, an independent consultant in Round Rock, Texas, said that Zyxel's products are a good alternative for small offices because of the low cost. While the same functionality in Zyxel's products can be found in those of its competitors, he said, Zyxel's performance is good for the price.

Scannell said that, because the company is based in Taiwan, its production costs are lower and it can introduce products into the U.S. market at a much lower price.

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