Juniper in Search of Wireless LAN Switching Firm

Networking company Juniper is working to buy a wireless LAN switching startup to keep pace with competitors such as Cisco.

Consider Juniper Networks Inc. among the many networking companies scrambling to improve their wireless portfolios.

According to sources, the Sunnyvale, Calif., company is working to buy a wireless LAN switching startup to keep pace with competitors such as Cisco Systems Inc., which earlier this month announced the acquisition of Airespace Inc. The move boosts Cisco in the burgeoning centrally managed, "thin access point" enterprise WLAN space.

According to sources, Juniper also bid to acquire Airespace with an offer that fell far short of the $450 million in stock that Cisco paid for the company.

Even as it was bidding for Airespace, Juniper was in discussions with Colubris Networks Inc., of Waltham, Mass., said sources. Colubris, another WLAN switch competitor, has had a marketing agreement with Juniper since May 2003, although the targets of that partnership were public Wi-Fi hot-spot operators.

It would behoove Juniper to team up or buy a WLAN switching startup, analysts said. "If Juniper wants to challenge Cisco, then this is a core part of what they need," said Ken Dulaney, an analyst at Gartner Inc., in San Jose, Calif. "And it would make sense that a buying frenzy on WLAN companies would ensue post-Airespace acquisition."

Juniper spokesperson Susan Ursch declined to comment beyond saying that the companys current WLAN strategy "is through partnerships. The only announced partnership is Colubris."

/zimages/6/28571.gifJuniper and Cisco are making noise in the high-end routing space. Click here to read more.

Several industry insiders last week said Juniper has made a bid to buy Aruba Wireless Networks Inc. for about $210 million, but Aruba is holding out for more. Don LeBeau, CEO of Aruba, also in Sunnyvale, denied he is negotiating with Juniper.

Some customers hope their vendors remain independent, despite analysts predictions of further consolidation in the space this year. "Because they are small and independent, they have been extremely responsive," said Brad Noblet, director of technical services at Dartmouth College, in Hanover, N.H., which runs an Aruba-based WLAN. "Thats difficult for large players with an installed base to service."

LeBeau said he is under no pressure to sell the company and that Arubas venture partners support the companys desire to go public within the next year. Nevertheless, Aruba is trying to build a partnership with Juniper. Its new security strategy would be a good fit for Juniper, LeBeau said. And in that regard, he has been courting Juniper for months. "Weve talked to Juniper about how we could potentially help them. Wed give [it] a chance to enter the wireless market and leapfrog into the wiring closet. And it makes sense for a service provider to put a controller at the edge of the network," LeBeau said."

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