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January 09, 2008

Wireless LAN: Transforming the Way We Work and Play

By Rich Tehrani, President and Editor-in-Chief

Meru Networks (News - Alert) delivers wireless infrastructure solutions designed to enable the “All-Wireless Enterprise.” The company has deployed solutions to Fortune 500 enterprises, universities, healthcare organizations and local, state and federal government agencies. Meru takes pride in their Air Traffic Control technology and the stated ability to deliver predictable bandwidth and over-the-air quality of service.

Rachna Ahlawat is Vice President of  International Sales and Corporate Strategy at Meru. I caught up with Ahlawat and asked about what trends are driving the IP Communications market these days.
RT: What trends are you noticing in the communications market?
RA: In wireless LAN, we are seeing more companies looking at wireless for their primary network. Among the drivers for this are solutions based on the draft 802.11n standard, which provide a real alternative to traditional wired switching with speeds up to 300Mbps per client. With 802.11n, enterprises can replace edge wired networks without noticeable performance penalties in most environments. Its wire-like performance, coupled with the benefits of mobility and elimination of wiring and per-port costs, is changing the enterprise networking landscape.
We are also seeing more organizations — especially in verticals such as healthcare, education, retail, and manufacturing — embrace voice over WLAN. Advancements in WLAN technology, such as fourth-generation architectures that provide required QoS and fair access to all clients running data, voice and video, plus the availability of WiFi handsets are driving this trend.
RT: Did 2007 finish the way your company expected?
RA: 2007 was a strong year for Meru. Meru now has worldwide presence and first vendor to announce the customer for next generation 802.11n products in North America and Europe. According to Gartner (News - Alert) latest market statistics report, Meru is the fastest growing enterprise WLAN vendor worldwide. To better support a rapidly expanding global customer base, the company also took steps to strengthen its overall operation, adding strategic members to its executive team, including a new COO and CFO, new top sales and channel executives, and a strategic marketing vice president. In late 2007 Meru also moved from its “startup” facilities to a beautiful, new headquarters in Sunnyvale.
RT: Is 2008 going to be a better year than 2007?
RA: With 802.11n, we anticipate more organizations will feel comfortable expanding their existing wireless networks or replacing wired with wireless. Today’s highly mobile workforce, combined with the pervasiveness of wireless devices for consumer and professional use, is demanding more flexibility from employers. Many are responding by rethinking their entire mobility strategy. New and better wireless technologies are also improving efficiencies in manufacturing and retailing, as well as healthcare and education.
RT: What technologies have altered the market the most?
RA: We’ve seen so many disruptive technologies over the past couple of decades, with the Internet being critical to most: first data communications, then WiFi, then VoIP, and more recently, wireless VoIP. Having been in the wireless industry for years, I may be biased, but wireless is clearly transforming the way we work and play.
RT: How has Skype (News - Alert) changed the telecom market?
RA: Skype changed the business model for voice communications, and — at least initially — it paved the way for the widespread acceptance of VoIP. We learned in 2007, however, that Skype wasn’t quite ready for the broader consumer or business market. Its outages and lack of strong service and support seemed especially detrimental. However, Skype’s loss will surely be other service providers’ gains. There are always lessons to be learned with emerging markets. Meru offers application flow-based firewall capabilities that allow network managers to enforce per user per application security policies. Such features were added as more and more applications are downloaded by employees and without advanced security features, network managers may not be able to keep their network resources secure and manageable.
RT: How will Apple, Google (News - Alert) and Microsoft each change the telecom space?
RA: These companies provide applications and /or devices that will operate on Wireless LAN. Meru provides the robust WLAN infrastructure that is required to run such applications.
RT: What are the brightest spots in your business going forward?
RA: Seeing how wireless with the latest PHY standard 802.11n is transforming the way networks will be deployed, accessed and managed. Wireless LAN is enabling applications that were never possible on wired LAN due to their rigidity and cost. Wireless LAN provides connectivity where it is needed — right next to patient bed-side, 100s of students in a lecture hall, next to the machines in the manufacturing plants, etc.
Meru recently announced the world’s largest WLAN deployment at the School District of Philadelphia, covering 268 schools and supporting more than 166,000 students and 10,000 teachers. This network is enabling new ways of teaching and learning. It supports high-bandwidth instructional applications, digital curriculum, electronic benchmark assessments and on-line remedial tools, and will be able to scale to meet the needs of the district.
RT: What are the biggest threats you see to your company’s success?
RA: Meru built its WLAN platform for voice and other bandwidth-intensive applications so the next couple of years are critical to our success. We must strive to provide the best product and best service, and to truly help our customers meet their objectives. Our inability to do this is our greatest, single threat.
RT: What is the most exciting market change we can expect in communications in technology in 2008 and beyond?
RA: Meru has always been focused on providing technology capable of enabling the “all-wireless enterprise.” In 2008, we believe more organizations will start replacing wired with wireless, and that this trend will snowball as we approach 2010. Technology is making this possible, but today’s workforce is demanding it. The next few years will be truly exciting for WLAN as data, voice and video converge on the same networks, with no compromise in quality.
I am particularly excited by the way wireless is improving patient care and overall communications in healthcare, and providing new tools for education. It’s a wonderful time to be part of the technology industry.
RT: Please make one surprising prediction for 2008
RA: Maturity of WLAN standards and robustness of architecture will make network managers question their investment in wired LAN for the edge connection. There are far more laptops shipped versus desktops, and 100 percent of laptops now have in-built WiFi adapters. Wireless LAN will become primary access technologies for majority of office workers.
Rich Tehrani is President and Group Editor in Chief at TMC (News - Alert). In addition he is the Chairman of the world’s best attended IP Communications event, Internet Telephony Conference & EXPO.
Mark your calendars! Internet Telephony Conference & EXPO — the first major IP communications event of the year — is just days away. It’s not too late to register for the event, which takes place in Miami Beach, FL, January 23–25, 2008. The EXPO will feature three valuable days of exhibits, conferences and networking that you won’t want to miss. So what are you waiting for? Sign up now!


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