D-Link Takes Wireless to the Switch

By Eric Griffith

February 25, 2004

UPDATED: The wireless home networking player partners with a switch startup pushing a thin access point standard on a new product targeting businesses.

Even though it is rated the No. 2 player in the home and SOHO wireless LAN market by both Synergy Research Group and Dell'orro Group, D-Link of Fountain Valley, Calif., is planning to branch out of that comfortable niche with a major foray into wireless products for the enterprise (they've introduced a few business class products before). Specifically, the company will be partnering with WLAN switch startup Airespace of San Jose, Calif., to make access points based on the Lightweight Access Point Protocol (LWAPP).

"This signals a strong expansion of the enterprise market, when a company with the volume and capacity of D-Link is going into it," says Alan Cohen, vice president of marketing at Airespace. His company is going to work directly with D-Link to co-develop the new LWAPP AP.

LWAPP is a specification for a "thin AP" that would work with any switch that supports the spec, allowing the main intelligence of the system to reside in the central switch instead of in the access point (AP) at the edge of the network.

Airespace helped create the LWAPP specification with NTT DoCoMo. The spec is still in approval stages with the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) and could be finished early this year, but won't be finalized for a couple of years.

The D-Link product will integrate at the very least with Airespace's 4000 WLAN Switch and 4100 WLAN appliance, but the unit should be able to work with switches from any vendors that support the LWAPP spec. Other companies that are currently working toward LWAPP include Intel, Avaya, Symbol, Proxim, Legra and Trapeze. Opponents include Aruba Networks and Cisco (though Cisco initially supported it).

The final D-Link LWAPP AP specs aren't final, but the product will be similar to the Airespace 1200 Remote Edge AP unit; the major difference will be that if no WLAN controller is present, D-Link's product will work as a full-fledged "fat AP."

"Strategically this just makes good sense," says Cohen. "When you have a switch available, you have better management, so you want your AP to [work with the switch]. In some cases, you might need a standalone AP with no switch to connect to."

The D-Link LWAPP AP will be sold under the D-Link brand, and Airespace will resell it through its own sales channels. Airespace's original equipment manufacturer (OEM) partner NEC will also sell it. Airespace will continue to sell its own 1200 AP as well.

In a white paper about enterprise-class APs, analysts at Infonetics Research of San Jose, Calif., said that widespread adoption of LWAPP would "free vendors to focus on innovating features for access points and centralized switches to continue to enhance the capabilities of a truly enterprise-class wireless LAN system. In this respect, it is essential that an enterprise-class AP comply with a public standard."

While D-Link's wireless success has been in the low-end of the market, Keith Karlsen, the company's executive vice president, points out that it has long been a player in switches for businesses on the wired side: "We see where businesses have left off with wireless, whether for security or management issues or whatever. We see an opportunity to leverage our success in wireless into the enterprise to interact with switches. You'll see more products from us in this space, more noise from us."

D-Link's LWAPP AP will ship sometime in the second quarter of this year.



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