Enterprise vendors put pre-802.11n stakes in the ground

The enterprise 802.11n market has officially taken off now that Aruba, the last major holdout, has entered the market. Things certainly changed in this market in a matter of months. Earlier this year, Aruba had said that 802.11n wasn't ready for the enterprise since the standard wasn't finished. Cisco also warned that the draft 802.11n product had no guarantee of working together. But Cisco jumped into the 802.11n space in September. Now many enterprises are pushing video services and looking for strategic replacement of of the wired Ethernet in certain areas of their businesses. 802.11n significantly improves data throughput and coverage of existing 802.11-based technologies, and vendors are convinced that the standard won't change much when it is finally ratified. They are also comfortable that the Wi-Fi Alliance is certifying these products.

Meru, the first vendor to announce Draft 2.0 802.11n plans earlier this year, said it plans to announce a number of customers shortly in verticals such as healthcare, retail, higher education and hospitality. Girish Baht, director of enterprise solutions with Meru, said Meru is in a situation where it can't often meet customer demand for 802.11n products. In fact, its recently introduced Video Unplugged Program, a video over WLAN partner program, which aims to certify video products and guarantee QoS, was introduced partly to take advantage of 802.11n's ability to handle larger amounts of data.

All of the draft 802.11n announced deals so far are in the higher education space. Meru has a deal with Carnegie Mellon, Cisco with Duke University and Meru with Morrisville State University. These are typically the entities that are less risk-adverse and want the latest cutting-edge technology.

How many pre-802.11n deals we'll see throughout 2008 remains to be seen. Stan Schatt, vice president and research director with ABI Research, doesn't expect massive adoption because most enterprises don't like the idea of using pre-standardized equipment. We'll likely see adoption in certain verticals that need lots of bandwidth or want to heavily take advantage of VoIP, he said.

After all, no vendor can make a 100-percent guarantee that the final standard will match what it is selling today. Even though most vendors expect a software upgrade, enterprises will have to foot the bill for a full hardware upgrade. As Schatt says, "Any time you lock up a bunch of engineers in a room, you just never know what is going to come out." -Lynnette