The true value of wireless LANs--the ability to use them more widely and regardless of manufacturer--is being quickly unlocked as companies have their wire-free network products certified for interoperability. The Wireless Ethernet Compatibility Alliance (WECA) said at the NetWorld+Interop show that another 18 products have passed, bringing to 46 the number qualified since March.
Lacking interoperability, companies initially could only deploy on a single vendor's wireless LAN. They couldn't use their notebook PCs on another vendor's network at a customer site, airport, hotel, or warehouse--places where wireless LANs are often deployed. WECA interoperability certification means that 46 systems--including wireless cards and access points--work together.
"This breadth of interoperability is an enormous accomplishment," says Maralyn Rosenblatt, VP of Internet technology for Countrywide Home Loans Inc. in Calabassas, Calif. "It's fostering the use of wireless LANs in more places and with less worry about interoperability. We use one vendor's wireless LANs in our large locations, but I couldn't plug into a wireless LAN in a customer site unless [the networks] were interoperable. That's quickly changing with the product certification effort."
Among companies recently certified are 3Com, IBM, Intel, Nokia Networks, and Symbol Technologies. Those previously certified include Cisco Systems, Compaq, Enterasys Networks, Lucent Technologies, and Samsung.
"The lack of interoperability has really limited the value of wireless LANs, and, as a result, stunted the growth of the market," says Daniel Briere, CEO of telecom consulting firm TeleChoice. "A larger group of people are becoming increasingly mobile and need to plug into wireless LANs outside of their company on the go to stay connected. And with more products being certified for interoperability, their options grow."
WECA tests products for interoperability with the IEEE's 802.11b high-rate standard, which specifies a maximum data speed of 11 Mbps, although a WECA spokesman admits that typical actual throughput will vary from 5 to 6 Mbps.