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Nortel Reveals Vision For 'Unwired Enterprise'

Instead of an overlay, access point or router, Nortel said it will integrate WLAN functionality directly with the Ethernet switch.

Nortel Networks, a top maker of telecom equipment, on Tuesday unveiled its vision for the "Unwired Enterprise," which involves creating completely wireless office environments.

Nortel said it will bring to market next-generation wireless local area network (WLAN) products based on the 802.11n draft specification once it's ratified as a standard sometime in the second half of 2008. The standard is designed to better handle bandwidth-hungry applications like video and voice over IP.

"Right now we're pretty far away for true voice or video over WLANs. But that's what we're trying to achieve with our next-gen solutions," said Jake Power, director of product marketing at Nortel, in an interview.

By 2011, 100% of wireless access points used in enterprise deployments are expected to be based on 802.11n, according to research firm Dell'Oro Group.

Nortel's new products -- a combination of hardware and software -- will include WLAN and "mesh" systems that offer speeds of up to 600 Mbps, switches and routers with embedded wireless functionality, and a unified network management platform. Mesh systems provide network coverage through a blanket of wireless access points, typically over larger areas.

Instead of overlaying WLAN equipment on top of an existing wired data infrastructure, Nortel will offer an integrated system, said Power. For example, Nortel will integrate WLAN functionality directly with the Ethernet switch, as opposed to offering standalone equipment like a wireless access point or a router.

"The difference is today you have to find [an Internet] connection but in the future you'll always be connected," Power said.

By running wireless functionality in distributed switches and routers, businesses can improve the performance of their applications.

Nortel has expertise in developing systems based on MIMO (multiple-input, multiple-output) and OFDM (orthogonal frequency division multiplexing), the technologies behind WiMax. The company said it plans to use its expertise to create the new portfolio of WLAN products that support the MIMO-based 802.11n standard.

Nortel is so determined to bring the products to market, it will build them in-house by increasing R&D spending. Previously, the company had farmed out its WLAN gear to original equipment manufacturers (OEMs).

"Nortel is stepping up to provide a cohesive set of wireless technologies that encompass networks inside and outside of the enterprise. Additionally, Nortel is articulating a position on 802.11n, something that, to date, smaller, pure-play vendors like Meru Networks and Nortel's OEM partner Trapeze Networks, have taken the lead in announcing," said Chris Silva, an analyst at Forrester Research, in an interview. Motorola and Cisco stand as the other vendors able to provide the breadth of similar technology.

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