Competition in the wireless LAN infrastructure market is heating up as several vendors are emerging as real challengers to Cisco Systems' dominance.
In Gartner's new "Magic Quadrant for Wireless LAN Infrastructure," the firm concluded that several vendors have emerged from the crowded universe of niche players to offer enterprises viable, advanced alternatives for large-scale, critical wireless LAN deployments.
Cisco and Aruba, last year's only Magic Quadrant leaders, have some company this year in the form of Motorola, which Gartner identified as a challenger in 2007.
Mike King, research director at Gartner, said Motorola experienced a bit of a slowdown with new product development and new customer wins after it acquired wireless vendor Symbol Technologies in January 2007, which he said is typical for many mergers and acquisitions. In 2008, however, Motorola and its Symbol subsidiary have made up for lost time.
"Over the past year, they've really hit the accelerator, particularly on the product side, introducing 802.11n [technology], adaptive access points, and indoor/outdoor management capabilities," King said. "They're integrating a lot of stuff from Wireless Valley and the other acquisitions they've made. In my opinion, they have really progressed their product above and beyond where it was with Symbol."
King said Motorola has begun to expand its customer base beyond the retail and government vertical markets where it was traditionally strong. He also said that the financial backing of Motorola's enterprise networking business bodes well for Motorola moving forward. The health of the company's mobile devices division remains a concern, but Motorola has made public its plans to spin off the struggling division.
Mergers and acquisitions have also contributed to the emergence of two new visionaries in the wireless LAN market: HP ProCurve and Siemens Enterprise Communications-Enterasys.
HP ProCurve's acquisition of Colubris this year has been a success so far, according to King. ProCurve and Colubris were niche players last year. ProCurve has historically sold repackaged Motorola wireless LAN technology through an OEM agreement, but Colubris gives the company its own portfolio of technology that is favored by the hospitality and manufacturing industries.
"We always liked what HP was doing," King said. "We thought that the ProCurve management console spanning wired and wireless networks was a very good thing, but we don't believe that having an OEM relationship is enough of a commitment to this space."
King said a cultural shift within HP has also contributed to ProCurve's rise. CEO Mark Hurd has made the ProCurve division a priority since he took over the company.
"The fact that HP was able to get this acquisition done in a very short time tells me that the guy running ProCurve now has a very short line to Mark Hurd," he said. "ProCurve is becoming a whole heck of a lot more important to the HP and EDS sales forces, lending credence to the [idea] that HP is now fully committed to the networking space and believes that wireless networking in general is an opportunity to penetrate the market and take share away from Cisco."
The merger of Siemens Enterprise Communications and Enterasys has also been an early success. King said he has been impressed by how quickly the two companies have come together and begun to align their products. He said the new company now has a strong end-to-end portfolio of products: wired and wireless networking technology, voice, intrusion protection, and guest access control.
"They have a lot of the right technology, and it's just a matter of putting all these things together," King said.
Meru Networks is the only other visionary in this year's quadrant. Gartner identified the rest of the vendors in the industry as niche players.
Last year, Trapeze Networks was one of Gartner's wireless LAN visionaries, but since its acquisition by Belden, the company has stumbled.
"There just hasn't been a lot of good advancement in the product line," King said. "I think they're going to lose a lot of their partners, and if you look at it, it's kind of a weird acquisition. Belden doesn't serve the same customer base that Trapeze does. Trapeze sells to IT customers and Belden sells to facilities-based customers. So I don't really see good alignment between the two. I understand that they're moving forward, and I think there will be some moves they make in the next year that will change my view a little bit, but right now the product slowdown, the potential loss of OEM partners and the lack of market presence contribute to a step backward. Well, I don't know if I consider it a step backward. It's more that they stood still while everyone else moved forward a little bit."
King had contrasting views of the other two leaders in the Quadrant. He sees a defined path to ongoing success for Cisco but said Aruba Networks has some challenges to face.
Cisco has advanced its wireless LAN vision since last year with the introduction of its Motion platform, he said. Cisco also has a promising new generation of access points in the works.
"Cisco is interesting in this case because they touch so many pieces of the network, and they alone have the capabilities to really provide an integrated, end-to-end network offering," King said. "To date, they've done a marginal job at best integrating all that stuff. They have all the right pieces in place and have begun down that path that's going to enable them to have that integrated network offering. That alone is a good acceleration of their vision."
Aruba remains a leader, with some of the best technology around, but it needs to prove to its customers that its technology is worth more than what they are currently paying for it, King said. The firm also needs to offer more integration between wired and wireless networking. Currently, Aruba has an OEM partnership with Foundry in the government vertical and a broader agreement with Alcatel-Lucent, which is best known for its voice technology.
"Aruba is in a tough spot right now," King said. "They've positioned themselves as second to Cisco in many ways, and they have a significantly differentiated technical vision. They've got a very good security focus and a very powerful controller and very powerful software for that controller. They have access points that are arguably best of breed."
But Aruba must convince enterprises that it's worth spending a little more on that best-of-breed gear, King said. Aruba is competing on price with other vendors, forcing it to offer deep discounts. Aruba had its highest-ever revenue quarter this fall, adding 700 new customers. And yet the company lost $6.4 million.
"They've got to do a better job articulating why technical differentiation has business benefits," he said. "Why is it important that you can do individual application and user level security? How does that materially affect your WLAN deployments or total cost of ownership?"
Let us know what you think about the story; email: Shamus McGillicuddy, News Editor