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LAS VEGAS—Smaller wireless-switching companies are challenging incumbent hardware vendors for the attention of users looking to improve the manageability of their WLANs.

Cisco Systems Inc. garnered much attention at NetWorld+Interop here this week from prospective customers interested in Cisco’s new wireless blade for its Catalyst 6500 switch, but many other persons took a long look at offerings from such companies as Trapeze Networks Inc., Airespace Inc. and Aruba Wireless Networks Inc.

Prospective buyers said the startups are attractive to companies that don’t already have a wired Cisco infrastructure.

“Our market space is medium-to-small businesses and schools,” said Jim Ealer, vice president and chief technology officer of Generation IX Technologies Inc., a systems integrator in Los Angeles, while studying Aruba’s switching systems. “Our clients are not going to be the ones who have 500 access points and a [Catalyst] 6500 sitting around. We’ve liked Aruba. They have a range of products, and they’re in our price range.” However, Ealer said he still planned to talk to Cisco’s wireless representatives.

Others discussed the benefits of a system that keeps wireless network intelligence largely centralized, rather than housing such features in the access points, saying it makes for easier wireless LAN management. Most of the startups use so-called thin access points. Cisco’s new system still uses Cisco’s “fat” access points, which include security and management features.

“When a fat AP fails, you can’t just stick a new one in,” said Jan Snyder, senior telecommunications consultant in the IS department of San Antonio Community Hospital, in Upland, Calif., which recently moved to a WLAN switching system from Trapeze Networks after a few years of using access points from Symbol Technologies Inc. “We’ve had one or two failures [with the Trapeze access points], but we can replace them in 30 seconds.”

“I once got a 60-day trial of an access point from Cisco, and I could never get it to work,” said William Stuart, network system engineer at Logitech Inc., in Fremont, Calif.

Improved security and simplified management are making their way into new WLAN products. Click here to read more.

Some users said the obvious downside of choosing a startup over an established vendor is that there’s a better chance a startup will fail. Analysts have said there are more players in the WLAN switching space than the industry can handle.

“That was our only concern,” said San Antonio’s Snyder, who said the risk was worth it. The hospital uses eight wireless switches from Trapeze.

“Any time you go with a startup, you roll the dice,” said Coy Thorp, network systems architect at MDL Information Systems Inc., in San Leandro, Calif. “The benefit of rolling the dice is that a startup listens to all its customers. I’ve never had that experience with a Cisco or an Alcatel [S.A.].”

And it’s often easier to consider a startup for a WLAN than for a more mission-critical purchase. “We looked at wireless as an add-on,” said Stuart. “We’re not going to not ship product because the wireless network doesn’t work. That could change in the future, though.”

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