Talking about Securing VoWLAN

By Eric Griffith

April 05, 2004

Aruba comes out swinging into the voice over Wi-Fi market, claiming security is the issue and announcing plenty of partners to back them up.

Embracing voice over IP (VoIP) as the hot new thing in LANs in general -- and wireless LANs in particular -- is not exactly news these days. VoIP is the buzzword of the moment, so it's no surprise when a company like Aruba Networks says it's going to have a "full solution for VoIP in the enterprise."

The difference with Aruba is, they've got partners like SpectraLink , Avaya (which rebrands SpectraLink phones), voice-badge maker Vocera, and soft-phone designer Telesym -- names that encompass almost all the major players in Voice over WLAN (VoWLAN). SpectraLink alone held 60% of the global market for VoWLAN products in the year 2003 according to Synergy Research Group. The nearest rival, Symbol, provides about 7% of the world's VoWLAN products.

Aruba also says it will differentiate its VoWLAN support from other switch vendors by concentrating on security.

"There's a huge security hole for voice," says Keerti Melkote, Aruba's co-founder and vice president of product marketing. "Handsets and the technology today are a generation behind the state of the art -- the handsets mostly use MAC address authentication and WEP . Static WEP is weak and can be broken and using a MAC address [means] that once that address is admitted, it can go wherever. Spoof that and it can send non-voice packets into the network" to cause a disruption.

Aruba will also be doing some new radio frequency (RF) management to reserve bandwidth and perform load balancing for calls at the access point (AP), all for voice traffic.

The Aruba switch will be able to make a "virtual AP in the air for voice, and operate it with specific power management profiles that are custom built for voice," says Melkote. This profile will take into consideration that phones aren't connected to the network at all times, unlike most WLAN data devices. By contrast, Meru Networks, a switch competitor of Aruba's, recently announced a proprietary solution involving the licensing of firmware to Wi-Fi handset vendors to do the same thing. Meru's switch system has been previously tested as interoperable with Symbol and Vocera products.

Melkote says the Aruba 5000 Switch could handle 5000 calls simultaneously, with a varying number of calls per AP depending on the type of VoWLAN clients due to the codecs and compression schemes used by each of its partners.

Aruba is breaking its voice support into three separate phases. The first is simply to have interoperability with its announced partners; for example the switch will support SpectraLink's Voice Priority Protocol. Phase 2 will include using standards such as Quality of Service from the proposed 802.11e standard and fast-hand off from the 802.11r standard announced at the last IEEE meeting of the 802.11 Working Group. Aruba also plans to support the Session Initiation Protocol (SIP). Phase 3 is well down the road: they plan to offer seamless handoff from cellular to Wi-Fi networks.

Aruba is demonstrating its VoWLAN solution with SpectraLink in London this week at the Wireless LAN show.

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