Network managers keep paying more for Wi-Fi

Wireless kit for business still costs way more than equivalent kit for SOHO equipment, but this doesn't seem to bother network managers. They just want to make sure they get the features, reliability and security they need.

Although prices for business-class wireless LAN kit are falling, they are not crashing through the floor. The average list price for a standalone business-class wireless LAN access point has fallen from US$840 to $733 over the last six months -- with a current street price of around $400 to $450.

Wireless LAN switch systems, meanwhile still cost between $600 and $800 per access point deployed, according to the Enterprise Wireless LAN Price Report, a US-based survey from subscription service Unstrung Insider.

"We don't expect street prices for wireless switches to decline dramatically this year," said analyst Gabriel Brown, though he does see some discounting. "Orders of around $30,000 are seeing discounts of between 10 percent and 15 percent to list price, while orders worth several hundreds of thousands of dollars are seeing discounts of 30 percent to 35 percent. It's not a fire sale."

However, while switch systems are sophisticated enough to hold their prices, standalone access points aren't. He thinks they are already "commodities" and predicts prices will "plummet" further.

Unstrung reckons that security appliance vendors such as Bluesocket Inc. are old hat, driven out by switch vendors (we tend to agree, but acknowledge their ease of use, and ability to manage legacy fat APs).

Trapeze Networks Inc. and Aruba Wireless Networks Inc., the non-Cisco Systems Inc. leaders in the market, both get kudos from Unstrung. Trapeze's MX-20 comes out as one of cheapest midsize products, dipping below $600 list price, and starting at $580 per AP deployed. Aruba may cost more, but it gets a pat on the back for modular software pricing, something which "shows great potential for the market" acording to Unstrung.

For its part Trapeze dissed the Aruba strategy as a way to make more money from a disparate bunch of software. But then, they would, wouldn't they?

Wireless LAN users agree that price is not an issue. "It's features you look at," said Ian Auger, IT Manager at ITN Plc, whose wireless LAN installation is described here. For him, security and reliability are more important. "A few pounds here or there won't affect your choice, as long as you get value for money."

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