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Motorola to acquire wireless security firm AirDefense

Analysts say the acquisition would strengthen Motorola's hand against WLAN infrastructure competitors Cisco and Aruba.

Motorola announced plans to acquire wireless security vendor AirDefense Inc. Monday, in a move that it says will strengthen its position in the market against wireless LAN infrastructure competitors Cisco Systems Inc. and Aruba Networks Inc.

"If Motorola is really going to attack the enterprise wireless LAN market, this was something they had to do."
John Pescatore, Vice President and Analyst, Gartner Inc.

Buying AirDefense, which is generally acknowledged by industry analysts as the leader in the WLAN intrusion detection/prevention market, counters Aruba's purchase of Network Chemistry Inc. in July 2007. AirDefense was already tightly integrated through a partnership with Motorola Inc., which entered the WLAN market when it bought Symbol Technologies Inc. in 2006.

Cisco, the clear leader in WLAN infrastructure, partners with AirMagnet Inc., one of the few remaining independent wireless IPS vendors, along with AirTight Networks Inc., and more recently, AirPatrol Corp. Monday's announcement is key to Motorola competing in the WLAN market, said John Pescatore, Gartner Inc. vice president and analyst.

"If Motorola is really going to attack the enterprise wireless LAN market, this was something they had to do," Pescatore said.

Pescatore said most enterprises will tend to go with their WLAN vendor's own IPS solution, as with Aruba and Motorola, or in Cisco's case with AirMagnet, its tightly integrated vendor of choice. Cisco could buy AirMagnet, but Pescatore doesn't think that's a slam dunk as long as the partnership is serving its primary aim, which is to sell routers and wireless LANS.

"One of the key underpinnings of wireless enterprise LAN is security," said Sujai Hajela, Motorola vice president and general manager. We have been able to get critical pieces of WLAN to market: Symbol Technologies and Wireless Valley Communications [were acquired in 2007] for RF planning, and AirDefense to add much needed security offerings to realize the vision of the wireless enterprise."

Motorola had other options but AirDefense appears to be the logical choice.

"AirDefense has best of breed technology, a strong brand and an experienced go-to market team," Hajela said. "They have a depth of intellectual capital in patents and people. We've had an ongoing relationship since 2005, and we have enjoyed success together."

Recognizing the market opportunity, Motorola said it will continue to sell AirDefense products into other wireless infrastructure environments in addition to their own.

Gartner says the wireless LAN IPS market has grown rapidly from $40 million in 2006, to $116 million in 2007. Gartner forecasts $168 million in total revenue for this year. Pescatore said government wireless security mandates, particularly in the Department of Defense, have been major growth factors. He also cited PCI DSS in the retail sector.

"And I think there will be an uptick in rogue access points as 802.11 comes in because it's faster, he said."

And of course, the growth in WLAN deployment is matched by growing threats.

"The value of data crossing wireless networks increased dramatically," said Mike Potts, AirDefense president and CEO. "Subsequently we've seen vulnerabilities emerge. Organized crime is trying to tap in to networks to steal credit card data and disrupt critical financial information. As we go into an unplugged wireless world, the need for security is going to go hand and glove with WLAN architecture."

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