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Reducing costs, headaches of wireless LAN deployment

Wireless LAN deployments are often plagued by unexpected costs and radio frequency interference problems, but a number of vendors at the Wireless Internet Summit say new vendor offerings will remedy those problems.

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- While Wi-Fi networks are often seen as simple and inexpensive to deploy, there are plenty of hidden costs and complexities lurking under the surface. Now, a number of new vendors are poised to remedy those problems.

Panelists at the Wireless Internet Summit said that problems with radio frequency interference and site surveys often plague enterprises deploying wireless local area networks.

Wireless LAN deployments are often expensive for companies because RF surveys, which help ensure proper network coverage, can cost as much as $1,000 per access point, said Albert Lew, director of product management for Burlington, Mass.-based wireless LAN vendor Legra Systems Inc. IT departments usually lack the expertise to do these surveys themselves, he said.

Interference is also becoming a problem for many businesses, said Tyler Burns, product marketing manager with Ottawa-based wireless products manufacturer IceFyre Semiconductor Inc. He noted that the growing popularity of Wi-Fi, and the numerous technologies that compete with it, are taking up much of the space in the 2.4 GHz RF band.

Having high quality of service over Wi-Fi networks will be increasingly important, particularly when it comes to voice and eventually video data, because that technology was not intended for those uses, said Warren Sly, director of marketing for Bellevue, Wash.-based in-building wireless infrastructure company RadioFrame Networks Inc.

Third-party vendors, such as San Francisco-based Sputnik Inc., are developing products that can help IT managers both configure access points and control them, ensuring better coverage.

Dave Sifry, CTO and co-founder of Sputnik, said that his company's products enable IT managers to bypass costly RF surveys. Instead, they can use low-cost, commoditized access points. With Sputnik's firmware, these access points configure themselves, and are controlled from a central management console. So instead of installing a few costly access points from vendors such as Cisco Systems Inc., Sifry said, an enterprise could mount a larger number of inexpensive access points and forgo the RF survey.

Sly said that enterprises may soon be able to avoid deploying their own access points altogether. He said RadioFrame sells a mountable box that provides not only Wi-Fi connectivity but also multiple types of wide area wireless coverage. It is currently available through Nextel Communications Inc.

Carriers are particularly interested in wide area wireless technology because it can help to boost cell phone coverage within buildings. The No. 1 reason enterprise customers switch carriers is poor service, Sly said, and this product can help carriers keep their customers, but it also gives them a presence inside the enterprise.

In time, Lew said, Wi-Fi networks will become aware of RF interference and self-adjust to avoid interference. However, that technology is still a ways off.


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