In another sign that wireless networking is slowly but surely making its way into the mainstream, network equipment maker Netgear recently announced three new wireless network controllers designed for small and medium businesses. The features they bring to the table, however, are typically found only in enterprise-centric devices.
The first, the ProSafe 5-AP Wireless Management Software, is geared toward networks of between five and 50 users, and can be used to configure five supported wireless 802.11g or 802.11n routers from Netgear.
Networks with between 50 and 200 users will need the ProSafe 16-AP Wireless Management System (WMS5316), an appliance that can manage up to 16 wireless access points (APs). It comes packed with features such as load balancing and rogue AP detection. For even larger networks, up to 1500 users, the ProSafe 20-AP Wireless Controller (WC7520) supports up to 20 APs and offers an upgrade path in its license to support a total of 50 APs on one unit.
In addition, the WC7520 is scalable up to three controllers on a single network; though having 150 APs operating on a single network sounds like an enterprise network in my book. For SMBs, it means that the WC7520 can comfortably grow, even if the company grows beyond an SMB. What is enticing about the WC7520 is its support for fast roaming, which allows users to move across multiple APs without being disconnected.
According to PC World.com, the WMS105 will cost $50, while the WMS5316 and WC7520 are listed as $910 and $6,280 respectively. The WMS5316 will be available in March, while the WMS105 and WC7520 will be available in May and July respectively.
In the beginning, small and medium businesses looking to implement a WLAN network could only turn to SOHO (small office home office) or home consumer solutions. While this equipment works, it invariably doesn't scale well to larger than a workgroup. To make matters worse, any attempt for SMBs to install more APs is often a haphazard and time-consuming affair. And we aren't even started yet on the administration nightmare of managing and securing any wireless networks larger than five to 10 APs.
The alternative in the past was to explore enterprise-centric solutions, which are often out of the budgets of SMBs. While the wireless network controllers from Netgear still will require buying additional APs, the total cost is now much closer to the prices of a similar-sized Ethernet network when you factor in the cost of wiring it up.
With an expected surge in the sales of 802.11n networking devices (802.11n routers are already outselling those based on 802.11g), SMBs can now have a viable alternative to wired networking. In the same vein, Broadcom also recently unveiled new microprocessors and software designed to implement 802.11n wireless. Except for organizations with specific, high-bandwidth requirements, the future is increasingly beginning to look like it belongs to wireless.