Seeking to differentiate themselves in a crowded market, many wireless networking vendors showed off innovative new products last week at Comdex Fall in Las Vegas.
These included a Netgear wireless access point with enterprise-grade security for the SME market, and the first 802.11g products from Linksys.
D-Link Systems showcased software upgrades that speed up 802.11b networks beyond the current 22Mbps.
Resellers indicated that the new products carry additional service and support opportunities. According to a recent survey by vnunet.com's sister title Computer Reseller News US, channel executives expect growth of at least six per cent in the wireless networking space this year.
The view is backed by research firm IDC, which said that worldwide mobile and wireless professional services spending grew to about $3bn in 2001, an increase of 138.3 per cent on the previous year.
IDC expects this market to increase at a compound annual growth rate of 58.5 per cent, reaching just under $30.4bn in 2006.
"The wireless industry, although not new, is still an emerging market," said Sophie Mayo, director of IDC's wireless and e-commerce implementation services research. "We are far from reaching any type of maturity."
New products with higher-end features can help resellers position themselves in the SME space as both a sales and support arm, according to Larry Piland, vice president at reseller Datek Systems.
"It's very difficult to tell a customer paying £100 [for a wireless local area network product] to pay £300 for service and support," he said.
This is why Netgear, which has primarily offered its products to the small office/home office market, is beefing up features in new products aimed at the SME space, explained Kevin Allan, product line manager at Netgear.
The company's ProSafe broadband router with virtual private network (VPN) and firewall features will help Netgear partners penetrate the SME market with products and support, he added.
ProSafe includes an eight-port switch and allows up to 70 IPSec VPN wide area network tunnels and 32 IPSec local area network tunnels. It includes support for 168-bit 3DES IPSec encryption and the Advanced Encryption Standard, according to Allan.
Piland explained that he likes the industrial metal used to house the ProSafe device rather than the plastic used on lower-end products. He believes that ProSafe's enterprise-class firewall features will prompt more customers to use Datek's network installation services.
"Customers need help with installation. This product is good for the channel, but it is ultimately good for the customers, too," he said.
Linksys is also targeting the SME market, and unveiled a line of 802.11g products slated to ship next month. Chief executive Victor Tsao confirmed that the networking vendor plans to use 802.11g wireless chips that support the current version of the 802.11g standard, which has yet to be ratified.
Linksys plans to offer software upgrades for the products once the standard is finalised, which will probably be in May.
The 802.11g products will offer up to 54Mbps throughput but will also be compatible with the popular 802.11b WiFi standard, the company said.
However, competitors expressed doubts that the vendor could deliver an 802.11g product that provides the capabilities and speed of the standard, as chip makers are only just testing and producing the necessary components.
But Tsao explained that Linksys is working with chip maker Broadcom and plans to ship more than 100,000 802.11g units by the end of this year.
D-Link and Netgear both expect to ship 802.11g products in January. D-Link demonstrated improvements to its 802.11b Plus line, which offers speeds of up to 22Mbps.
Bradley Morse, vice president of marketing at D-Link, said that the firm is working on a software upgrade with partner Texas Instruments that could increase throughput to twice the current speed of the 802.11b Plus products.
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