Juniper enters the 802.11 Market

By Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols

March 12, 2003

This leading supplier of backbone equipment for service providers wants to help its customer cut the cord(s) -- wireless networking may never be the same.

Juniper Networks' February announcement that it was releasing a Service Deployment System for Public Wireless Local Area Networks (PWLANs) based on its Model for Integrated Network Transformation (MINT) looks, at first sight, like just like more buzzword marketing. Look more closely, though, and you'll see the next step for commercial hotspots.

Juniper's plan is based on its E-series platform, a carrier-class, broadband fabric and edge hardware that can handle everything from 1.54 Mbps to 40-Gbps speeds, and the SDX-300 Service Deployment System. The first thing that's important about this is that it gives ISPs and other broadband providers the ability to go straight from their Internet backbone to a WLAN. What's more important is that it also enables them to consolidate network management, user authentication and service creation functions from multiple hotspots into a single platform.

In practical terms, this means that an ISP can not only easily scale up and manage multiple hotspot networks while giving them centralized user and user group administration. It's potentially a powerful combination. As Sarah Kim, senior analyst, Yankee Group, says "Juniper Networks is unique in its ability to offer this network-based PWLAN solution at the service provider edge."

Kevin Dillon, director of portfolio marketing at Juniper Networks, says "The current approach to building PWLANs, which requires underpowered and feature-constrained CPU-based gateways to be deployed, configured, and managed at each and every hotspot, restricts the service to basic Internet connectivity."

That's open to argument. While Allen Nogee, senior analyst for In-Stat/MDR, agrees that, "centralized management of networks is very important to many (but certainly not all) hotspots, and to larger enterprises. Juniper certainly isn't the first to do this, and others such as Proxim's ORiNOCO product line have very extensive central management abilities and Gemtek System is another vendor with a large amount of experience enabling public hotspots."

All true, but unlike those companies, Juniper is primarily a backbone equipment provider for service providers. As Abner Germanow, research manager of wireless LANs for IDC, observes, other major datacom companies, like Cisco, Nortel, and Alcatel are getting interested in carrier and enterprise class WLAN management.

Julie Ask, senior analyst for JupiterResearch comments, "Their product will probably be good for a segment of the market." Specifically, that's because "for anyone who wants to make money, it will be key to authenticate the users of the system and somehow charge them (appropriately) in terms of guaranteeing level of service--constant connectivity, levels of security, minimum throughput, etc."

Right now, with hotspots from dozens if not hundreds of companies appearing faster than hotdogs at a ballgame, this kind of major centralized management may not seem important. Remember though there was also a time when there were hundreds of important PC vendors and ISPs. Looking ahead, Amy Cravens, an In-Stat/MDR analyst of voice and data communications, says, "Centralized management will be more important, especially as some network consolidation begins, where a few big players have control over the majority of locations. It will be interesting to see how these solutions integrate with established architectures.

That integration between WLAN and the established Internet backbone is exactly where Juniper is going, according to Christopher Komatas, product marketing manager for Juniper's mobile division.

"We saw a chasm in the marketplace, where early adopters were being served by existing infrastructures by using gateways at every hotspot location," says Komatas. "We saw this wouldn't scale. With tens of thousands of hotspots you can't deliver consistent service because you had to configure and provision every server."

Specifically, Komatas thinks that Juniper's package will give its customers a "major advantage to rolling out hotspot networks, by lowering provision costs and removing need for a gateway at every location." In addition, "account management can be done at the edge of the service provider's point of presence at the wired network."

With these services, a hotspot owner can easily set rates based on usage, customer or customer groups, provide traffic management, and deploy spam or anti-virus filtering."

If that doesn't sound like mom and pop hotspotting, you're right. Germanow explains, "If you look at Juniper customer base, they have a lot of service providers. And, that world is now looking at wireless and trying to figure out to create new services and expand and augment the services they already have. If you're Juniper, you want to give them some options on some of the services they can deploy not just in the US but in Asia and Europe as well."

In short, Juniper is positioning itself to be the equipment provider for carrier and mid-range service providers who want to make the jump into WLANs with the kind of competitive advantage that manageable, centralized WLAN control can bring to a company that has to run not dozens or even hundreds of hotspots, but thousands and even tens of thousands of hotspots.

Only the market can tell us if Juniper has the right WLAN package for the coming generation of mega-WLAN service providers. What is certain, though, is that as major companies like Intel start to pour hundreds of millions into Wi-Fi, high-end network management like the kind that Juniper is providing can only grow in popularity as 802.11 moves from SOHOs and departments to the enterprise and the world at large.

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