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* NEC to enter converged WLAN market next month
Posted Dec 14, 2003 - 12:35 AM
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NEC will enter the enterprise WLAN market next month, with particular focus on stealing a march on Cisco in voice over WLAN systems.

NEC will enter the enterprise WLAN market next month, with particular focus on stealing a march on Cisco in voice over WLAN systems.

Like many PBX makers, it is seeking to gain an upper hand as voice and data networks converge and unwire, rather than lose out to companies (notably Cisco) approaching the same space from a data heritage. With this agenda, and to make up for its rather late entry into WLAN, it will differentiate itself from the data WLAN crowd by placing the focus on voice integration from day one. It plans to launch products, initially in Japan and the US, to provide a real time managed infrastructure for voice and data without wires, says the company. Most of the actual wireless hardware will be bought in, although NEC is working on its own handsets for next year and back end call routing will be handled by its NEAX IP PBX. It will offer a centralised switch architecture and dumb access points taking the opposite approach to Cisco's fat access points based on kit from start-up Airespace. This OEM deal is a critical one for Airespace as it faces an increasingly overcrowded wireless switch market and one where the large enterprises will be inclined to pick a well-known name. NEC will have the advantage of offering users an alternative to Cisco's proprietary approach and the chance to use a voguish wireless switch platform, without having to take a chance on a start-up in a sector that is heading for a shake-out. But voice is NEC's main focus and here it will work with Airespace to improve voice-oriented features such as quality of service, and will initially offer handsets from SpectraLink, which also licenses its technology to Cisco.

However, next year it will provide its own handsets as will Cisco based on its partnership, signed last summer, with Motorola. The two companies are collaborating to develop dual-mode IP/cellular phones, which will almost certainly run a Windows Mobile operating system. The Motorola-NEC system will provide users with a single handset and number for wireless VoIP and cellular usage, with corporate features such as dialling by extension. Smartphone users will be able to access corporate applications, including email, via the WLAN. The system will be controlled by Motorola's server-based call management software, Mobility Manager, which will support seamless hand-off between networks even mid-call. This will be integrated with NEC's PBXs and the two companies have promised to co-develop a managed WLAN infrastructure. In light of the NEC-Airespace deal this is expected to incorporate Airespace switches, although here there may be conflict for Motorola which has another VoWLAN/cellular development partnership, with Avaya and Proxim. Motorola, which owns a stake in Proxim and is tipped to buy the ailing company, had previously positioned this partnership as a critical one for its WLAN infrastructure play.

The Motorola-NEC handsets themselves will be built around Texas Instruments 802.11a/b/g chips and will support CDMA, GSM/GPRS or iDEN. They are likely to be similar to a phone now in trials with US operator Nextel, which runs Microsoft Windows Mobile and incorporates WLAN capability. Motorola and NEC are initially targeting three verticals for non-carrier sales of their system, and these will also be key focuses for NEC's whole WLAN strategy. They are healthcare, education and hospitality, where employees are highly mobile, even within the organization's premises.
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