Trapeze: 'One Platform for Wired and Wireless'

By Eric Griffith

April 14, 2003

The latest company to announce a switched WLAN combines the Ethernet and 802.11 network switch in one unit for 'identity-based networking,' plus has software to help any business launch a WLAN with the right amount of coverage.

The market of wireless LAN switches is growing every week. The latest player is Trapeze Networks , a Pleasanton, CA-based company that has long been rumored to be in the field. As of today, they are fresh out of startup mode and announcing their initial product line, the WLAN Mobility System.

"The wired edge wasn't designed to do wireless well," says George Prodan, senior vice president of worldwide marketing at Trapeze. "They never considered wireless and the constraints on wireless with the current architecture."

The hardware side of the system consists of the switch, called Mobility Exchange (MX), which combines both Ethernet and 802.11 capabilities in one box, and Mobility Points (MP), "thin" access points connected to the MX that provide wireless coverage.

The MX is what they company calls "mobility aware," so that it can provide subnet roaming for users, perform key management for encryption, and even what virtual LANs (VLANs) they should be on. And, of course, the MX provides the central management of both the wireless network MPs, and all wired connections.

"The Exchange looks like a switch, because it is -- a darn good enterprise class switch," says Dan Simone, the company's vice president of product management. "It's got all the protocols you expect. All the things the industry expects."

Simone says the Mobility Points are a mix of thin and "fat" access points (the latter being standard access points we have today, with all the intelligence for controlling the wireless packets and more). The MPs are centrally controlled by the MX so they can be placed and forgotten, but data processing is distributed to the MPs "to take advantage of the bandwidth in the enterprise," says Simone.

The MPs, which run on Power over Ethernet (PoE) back to the MX, come in either single mode versions (either 802.11b or 802.11a), or a dual-radio version with 802.11a/b together. Trapeze expects to ship 802.11g and 802.11a/g versions once the g specification is ratified by the IEEE .

MPs support a variety of security functions, from WEP (with rotating/multicast keys) to WPA to TKIP to 802.1X, and have hardware powered AES encryption ready for the upgrade to 802.11i when that is ratified. MPs will also "listen" for rogue access points or ad-hoc connections and can triangulate their position.

While the company says the Frisbee-sized MPs are radio agnostic, they are not field upgradeable nor will they take third party antennas to increase range.

Impressive as the hardware sounds, the software is, in Simone's words, "the most significant part of the system." The Mobility System Software controls things across an entire network of MXs so they operate as a single system. Its integrated with the AAA backend so users are recognized, no matter what device they might be using to access the network, thus passing on that users attributes.

A key part of the software is the RingMaster preplanning and deployment tool. It's a standalone application that works with Windows 2000, XP, or Solaris, and even integrates into HP OpenView. Using it with just about any graphical representation of your office, from a GIF image on up to a CAD layout, the software can be used to generate an instant site survey of the enterprise. By specifying in the software what is a wall, a door, a window, etc., RingMaster can figure out the potential signal attenuation issues and tell you just how many MPs would be needed to provide adequate coverage. It provides a visual simulation of the radio coverage the Mobility system will provide. Holes in coverage can be fixed by dragging and dropping the MPs listed on the screen to new locations.

"We've done all this without even seeing the building," says Prodan. Once you're done, you "freeze" the file and RingMaster tells you how many MPs you need in the ceiling and how many MXs you need for the wiring closet to get complete coverage. "Our reseller channel loves this tool."

Pricing for the Mobility System is $9,500 for a starter kit, which includes one MX, two MPs, and the Mobility System Software and RingMaster tool. Trapeze will begin shipping to customers in June.

802.11 Planet Conference Just what is a wireless network switch anyway? Join us at the 802.11 Planet Conference & Expo, June 25 - 27, 2003 at the World Trade Center Boston in Boston, MA. One of our sessions will answer that question as vendors go to head-to-head to 'discuss' what they think constitutes a "WLAN switch."

Originally published on .

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