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With WLAN updates, Extreme looks to go mainstream

Extreme Networks is upgrading its wireless LAN products, trying to play catch-up as a late arrival to the market. An analyst says the company's products offer broad functionality, but that may not work in its favor.

Extreme Networks Inc. on Monday announced changes in its wireless LAN products that increase security options and make the systems more flexible to deploy.

The new features added to the Santa Clara, Calif.-based networking company's Unified Access product line include a series of security improvements to its Summit 300 switch and Altitude 300 wireless ports.

Extreme's implementation of Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA) has been certified by the Wi-Fi Alliance for interoperability. Extreme's system can now authenticate devices using a Media Access Control (MAC) address, which can be helpful for authenticating scanners and other less sophisticated devices, said Scott Lucas, director of product marketing for Extreme.

The vendor has also added HTTP redirect as a method of logging on. When someone attempts to log on using a wireless device, they will be redirected to a Web page. They enter their user ID and password information on that page. That login transaction is protected using secure socket layer (SSL) encryption.

The company also released RF Manager, a product that Lucas said helps a company to deploy Wi-Fi in a more organized manner. RF Manager aids in the creation of site surveys and helps to monitor the RF environment for rogue access points.

Additionally, Extreme's access point products now feature dual radios, which enable the wireless network to use both 802.11a on the 5GHz spectrum and 802.11b or 802.11g on the 2.4GHz spectrum. Not only can radios can be used simultaneously to increase throughput, but they can also shape where the radio signal travels. This gives network managers more opportunity to direct the wireless signals toward the spaces they need to cover and helps avoid broadcasting outside of their buildings.

Though Extreme is announcing a flurry of changes to its Wi-Fi offerings, the company came to the market late, said Zeus Kerravala, a vice president with the Cambridge, Mass.-based Yankee Group. The company only launched its Wi-Fi product line last fall, and market competition was already fierce.

In the fourth quarter of 2003, Extreme had 1.4% of the enterprise wireless LAN market, according to a report by Synergy Research. That compares to Cisco's market-leading share of 37.4%.

Nonetheless, it was a move that Extreme needed to make, said Aaron Vance, a senior analyst with the Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Synergy Research Group.

"Wireless is a big part of the local area network," said Vance. "Going forward, it is important for Extreme to have a good story there."

With these announcement, Extreme is largely following the broad market trend of moving Wi-Fi intelligence further into the network as has been done by vendors like Symbol Technologies Inc. and others that employed the wireless switch approach.

Kerravala said that Extreme had an opportunity to gain some market share by simply targeting its existing user base, even though the company has yet to carve out a strong market identity.

For instance, 3Com Corp. and Hewlett-Packard Co. have become synonymous with low prices, Enterasys Networks Inc. has been associated with strong security and Foundry Networks Inc. offers strong performance.

However, Kerravala said that Extreme is primarily known for providing products with broad functionality, something that has not always been valued in the marketplace.

Lucas disagreed. Extreme, he said, is poised to take advantage of its reputation for functionality. As networks converge voice and data, as well as video, they will need more management functions.

It's an argument that Vance doesn't dismiss. "In a broader sense," he said, "they [Extreme] have become more useful."

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