Wireless companies vie for federal dollars

Wireless networking firms are eager to earn federal business and are trying to stand out from their competitors.

Last week, a 3-year-old, privately held wireless company called ReefEdge Inc. announced it had earned Federal Information Processing Standard (FIPS) 140-2 Level 2 certification for its ReefEdge Connect system. The government requires this standard for cryptography-related products, ReefEdge officials said.

Also last week, Foundry Networks Inc. launched a new migration strategy in a push to encourage its customers to add wireless capabilities to existing wired networks.

The FIPS certification validates the level of security the company can offer, officials said. ReefEdge's efforts show how eagerly wireless firms are angling to set themselves apart from one another as they try to win federal business.

"The key with a start-up, which ReefEdge is, is if you don't differentiate, you don't survive," said Frank Dzubeck, president of Communications Network Architects Inc. in Washington, D.C.

ReefEdge, based in Fort Lee, N.J., makes wireless local-area network systems. Its Connect product is part of the wireless fabric, a suite of back-end services that make wireless networks easier to deploy. For such companies, earning standards certifications is an important way to stand out, Dzubeck said. Many federal agencies are impressed by such certifications and, in the future, may require them.

"It's the kind of differentiator that when one bids on a job, [it] means something," he said. "Will it win you the award? The answer is probably no. Will it get you a place at the table? Maybe so."

FIPS certification encompasses security, mobility, management and session persistence, which means users are able to move from one network hot spot to another without having to re-enter log-in information, said Sandeep Singhal, chief technology officer at ReefEdge.

All of those parameters are important to agencies, but security is a universal need, he added. "We're trying to set a bar where Level 2 certification is the right level of security," he said. "There's been a lot of focus on the security issue, and that's an area where FIPS certification plays a key role."

Agencies are increasingly willing to consider wireless networks, said Paul Lipari, network operations division chief at Fort McPherson, an Atlanta Army base that is eagerly awaiting Foundry's wireless beta product.

"McPherson is over 125 years old, and we have a lot of historic buildings here," Lipari said. "We have been faced with exponential growth.... Wireless will help us reduce the cost of ownership."

The base has been installing a wired Ethernet network, with about 2,700 users connected and the same number waiting, he said. Wireless capabilities would lower the cost of rolling out the network and would accommodate the greater bandwidth needed for a converged network moving voice, video and data.

Foundry, based in San Jose, Calif., introduced IronPoint 200, a wireless access point using the 802.11 series of wireless standards. IronPoint works with Foundry's FastIron Ethernet switches to extend wired networks into wireless configurations.

"We've built up a lot of security features," said Adam Stein, director of corporate marketing at Foundry. "That's really important for the government clients that we have. Over 20 percent of our revenues have come from government agencies."

The company undertook the wireless initiative in the face of competition from companies such as Cisco Systems Inc. that threatened to take customers away, he said.

"There are a number of government agencies that want to look to a vendor like Foundry and say, 'I don't want to piecemeal my network together,' " Stein said.

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Wireless connections

Wireless networking firms are trying to attract federal business by offering migration strategies and emphasizing security.

Two recent efforts include:

* Foundry Networks Inc. — Rolled out the IronPoint 200 wireless access point that works with the company's FastIron Ethernet switches to extend wired networks into the wireless world.

* ReefEdge Inc. — ReefEdge Connect wireless systems earned Federal Information Processing Standard 140-2 Level 2 certification. The security standard is required for cryptography-related products that federal agencies buy.

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