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As enterprises continue their transition from ad hoc to formal WLAN integration, a pair of networking companies are responding with new ways to meld wired and wireless infrastructures—and improve network security and management at the same time.

Cisco Systems Inc. and Symbol Technologies Inc. are taking wireless LANs to new heights with product rollouts that tout advanced manageability and integration.

Cisco plans to follow up on its recently announced Wireless LAN Services Module (WLSM) blade for its Catalyst 6500 switch with similar blades for the Catalyst 4500 and 3700 switches, according to company officials here at NetWorld+Interop.

The initial release of the wireless blade, part of the San Jose, Calif., company’s Structured Wireless-Aware Network strategy, allows for Layer 3 roaming among access points but not among switches.

Extending that capability, Cisco plans to offer interchassis wireless roaming among Catalyst 6500 switches, officials said, declining to say when.

“I think we’re early in the market adoption of big wireless LANs, and the WLSM is going to address that,” said Bill Rossi, vice president and general manager of the wireless networking business unit at Cisco.

Symbol, meanwhile, will go head-to-head with Cisco with a strategy that focuses on wireless device management through its MSS (Mobility Services Suite). Due in July, MSS comprises centralized switching software and device-side MSAs (mobile services agents).

Symbol has introduced two ruggedized handheld computers that support Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and wide-area wireless networks. Click here to read more.

Symbol has an edge on competitors in terms of offering WLAN switches, thin access points, thick access points and myriad devices—the last of which make up 60 percent of Symbol’s revenue, CEO William Nuti said. But while the Holtsville, N.Y., company wants to be a one-stop shop for customers that favor such an approach, it also wants to support third-party devices and software.

To that end, while the initial release of MSS supports only Symbol’s own PPT 8800 and MC9000 Pocket PC devices, Symbol plans to start licensing the APIs for its MSAs, a plan somewhat similar to Cisco’s CCX (Cisco Compatible Extensions) program, which provides API access to the company’s proprietary access point security protocols.

A software developer kit for the MSA APIs should be available by the end of the year, Symbol officials said. On the server side, Symbol intends to team up with software companies to develop applications for MSS throughout the year. An ISV strategy is a new one for Symbol.

But taking on Cisco will not be easy. Cisco recently beat Symbol in a bid for a large WLAN installation at The Home Depot U.S.A. Inc., an account so coveted that Cisco CEO John Chambers was personally involved in securing it, according to sources close to Cisco.

Declining to confirm the loss directly, Symbol’s Nuti commented on the deal only vaguely.

“As our strategy gains momentum, there are going to be customers that get it and customers that don’t,” Nuti said. “At the end of the day, we’re sure our strategy is the right one.”

“There are really two players in wireless,” added Nuti, a former Cisco executive. “There’s the No. 1 company [Cisco] coming from a networking point of view, and there’s Symbol coming at it from mobility.”

Click here to read about a spec in the works to secure wireless networks.

But Cisco and Symbol are facing growing competition from startup WLAN infrastructure manufacturers. Reasoning that wireless access is an essential utility but not necessarily something IT managers want to deal with directly, officials at San Jose-based Aruba Wireless Networks are developing integration and management services, both through channel partners for direct installations and through carrier partners that want to provide managed WLAN services.

Aruba CEO Don Lebeau said the company is in the midst of a deal with AT&T Corp. to offer managed WLAN services to the carrier’s customers. “People want to use electricity, but they don’t want to manage it,” Lebeau said.

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