Acquisitions show wireless LAN industry keeps innovating

Wireless space abuzz with acquisitions

A trio of recent wireless LAN vendor acquisitions is evidence that the industry is still in creative ferment.

Aruba Networks, one of the few remaining independent WLAN switch pioneers, has acquired the wireless intrusion prevention/detection product line of Network Chemistry. Bluesocket snapped up Pingtel, an IP PBX vendor, to extend its Wi-Fi services into VoIP and integrate them with cellular. And earlier this month, client wireless mesh vendor PacketHop was bought by its founder, SRI International, a non-profit R&D outfit.

Aruba gains the RFprotect and BlueScanner wireless security product lines from Network Chemistry. The former is an intrusion detection/prevention system for WLANs; the latter is an application for detecting Bluetooth security threats.

RFprotect is based on a rackmounted appliance with software and sensors that detect devices such as access points and wireless-equipped laptops that attach to the network. Via a downloaded agent, RFprotect creates a "fingerprint" of each device's radio signature, then compares this with a database of such fingerprints to identify the wireless device, and determine if it represents a threat. Network Chemistry updated the system earlier this year.

Aruba plans to integrate the Network Chemistry software into its existing line of wireless controllers, applications and access points.

As with other WLAN vendors, Aruba has had some intrusion-detection capabilities in its core software. But third-party vendors such as AirDefense, AirMagnet and AirTight (sometimes dubbed the "Air Brothers") and Network Chemistry have carved out successful businesses with increasingly sophisticated systems for scanning radio frequencies, and identifying, locating and containing threats. The strength of such offerings was underlined in June, when VeriSign launched a wireless IDS managed service, based on AirMagnet's products.

No financial details were disclosed. It's Aruba's first acquisition since going public earlier this year.

In other business news, Aruba announced a joint venture with Alcatel-Lucent SA to deliver hardware and software that will add secure WLAN switching to future Alcatel-Lucent products. Another goal of the joint venture is to beef up security for Alcatel-Lucent's fixed-mobile convergence projects, but the vendors were vague on details.

Bluesocket's acquisition also has an eye on convergence. The WLAN vendor will use PingTel's VoIP expertise and its software IP PBX to strengthen wireless voice on Bluesocket controllers and access points, and as the basis for converging Wi-Fi and cellular voice and data services in the future, according to Bluesocket CEO Mads Lillelund.

A number of other vendors are tackling the same opportunity, to blend Wi-Fi and cellular, including Divitas and Siemens.

No financial details of the PingTel acquisition were released.

PacketHop has been developing since 2003 software that can tie together in a mesh network an array of wireless clients. With the software, the clients form a peer network, and traffic can hop from client to client to reach a wired or wireless infrastructure. The software has been targeted at first-responder and public safety applications, and the company has several deployments under its belt.

A statement on SRI's acquisition says the move will let PacketHop use SRI's management expertise to explore new applications and markets for its technology. No financial terms were disclosed.

In other wireless business news:

Zipit Wireless announced it has received $US4.7 million in Series A investments from a quartet of venture funds. The company has released Zipit Wireless Messenger, billed as the only Wi-Fi instant messaging device on the market. It supports all major IM services.

RFID reader vendor Skye Tek has secured $US10 million in Series C funding. Skye Tek offers an OEM platform of RFID software, hardware and consulting services.

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