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Consolidation in the WLAN switching arena may mean fewer vendors to choose from, but more ways for users to secure, configure and manage their wireless LANs this year.

Aruba Wireless Networks Inc. later this month will announce updates to its WLAN switch line, along with two major customer wins, McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas and SAP America Inc., each of which is turning to WLANs for corporate and guest Internet access.

Click here to read more about the wi-fi plans for McCarran International Airport.

Due for release later this month is the Aruba AP70 Grid Point access point, which provides simultaneous 802.11a and 802.11b/g wireless connectivity and features a choice of internal or external antennas. Key to the AP70 Grid Point is the inclusion of a USB (Universal Serial Bus) port, a feature Aruba officials said will appear on the company’s future grid points.

Officials at WLAN market leader Cisco Systems Inc., in San Jose, Calif., said the company has no plans for USB expansion ports.

Planned service extensions for Aruba’s USB ports in the coming year include a spectrum analyzer, Bluetooth detection, integration of third-generation cellular network technology, wireless backhaul capability for mesh networks, and smart cards from security companies such as RSA Security Inc. and ActivCard Inc.

Other possible USB extensions include the ability to upgrade to future radio protocols such as 802.11n and WiMax, officials said. The AP70 will be available this month for $595.

Aruba is also updating its WLAN switching software. Chief among the new features is the ability to create IP Security tunnels between switches and access points, even if the access point is in a remote location. Previous versions of the software used UDP (User Datagram Protocol) packets for control messages and GRE (General Routing Encapsulation) tunnels for user data transport.

In addition, the free software supports NAT (network address translation), which allows IPSec to work in the presence of devices without native IPSec support.

“You can use that in a remote office,” said Jon Green, product manager at Aruba, in Sunnyvale, Calif. “Almost everyone is using NAT devices at home, and IPSec is good because it can do NAT traversal if it needs to.”

The new software also reduces congestion by allowing access points to load software images from the nearest switch, rather than only from the master network switch. In addition, the software includes scripts for integrating Aruba hardware and management software into Hewlett-Packard Co.’s OpenView Network Node Manager.

McCarran Airport plans to use an Aruba-based WLAN to provide free Wi-Fi access to passengers as well as secure access for airport employees. The airport will announce the service early this month, said sources familiar with the plans.

SAP America Inc. is also using Aruba’s gear to build its first official wireless network, providing access to its employees and guests via a wireless Internet cafe.

“The challenge was to provide an adequate authentication mechanism that is not administratively burdensome yet provides a degree of traceability in the event a guest user violates policy,” said John Harford, director of network services at SAP America, in Newtown Square, Pa.

Meanwhile, Aruba competitor Airespace Inc. is updating its 1250R access points with more efficient transmitters based on Atheros Communications Inc.’s 5312 wireless system on a chip, which uses less power than previous chip sets.

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