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Cisco pushes WLANs, preps wireless-aware routers and switches

Posted: 17 Nov 2003 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Cisco Systems? WLAN? routers? switches?

Cisco Systems Inc. launched new 802.11g wireless LAN access points and described plans to roll out wireless-aware routers and switches starting next year. Cisco and several partners said they see 802.11g as the vehicle for businesses to start deploying wireless LANs next year.

Analysts said Cisco's upcoming products could mark the start of a new phase in wireless LANs for businesses, though they disagreed over whether .11g or .11a is the best vehicle for those networks.

Cisco announced .11g upgrade modules for its existing Aironet 1100 and 1200 access points based on Cisco-designed media access controllers and third part RF chips. The company will provide a software upgrade to handle the 802.11i security standard, including AES support, when the standard is ratified in the middle of next year.

But the big step in WiFi for Cisco comes in the middle of next year when it begins to roll out new versions of its routers and switches geared to work for both wireless and wired networks. "One of the most exciting things for Cisco is building wireless features into our routers and switches," said Larry Birenbaum, SVP of Cisco's Ethernet access group.

Those systems will initially support integrated wireless and wired management capabilities and later support Layer 3 roaming across subnets, said Bill Rossi, vice president of Cisco's wireless networking unit. "I think this will be an investment area for us for the next two years," Rossi said. Although both startups and established companies have launched a variety of WiFi infrastructure gear aimed at big business networks, analysts said Cisco's entry could mark and architectural shift.

"Originally these networks were distributed using what we call fat access points, and now they are centralized with people providing concentrators or controllers they call wireless switches. But with the new Cisco products we think wireless becomes integrated, essentially disappearing into the network," said Craig Mathias, principal of Farpoint Group, a wireless consulting firm.

"I think this is a major new trend and many people will be implementing it. For Cisco, they have a lot of new IOS code to write and other development to make it happen," Mathias said. "It's hard to imagine Cisco not being successful in this marketplace. They are not facing the same pressures the earlier-to-market startups are," he added.

However, Mathias disagreed with Cisco's belief that .11g will become the mainstream wireless LAN.

"I think .11g will be important and it's being well merchandized by the vendors. But we generally recommend .11a because there is better spectrum availability with 12 channels available now and 12 more next year. In a year all the clients will be trimode a/b/g and though .11a doesn't have as good propagation characteristics as .11g, the extra access points don't cost that much," Mathias said.

Representatives from Hewlett-Packard and Intel on hand for the Cisco launch here disagreed.

"We are anticipating a hard transition to .11g," said Kevin Frost, vice president of marketing for notebooks at HP. The vast majority of our systems next year will be .11g except for those where businesses prefer a trimode a/b/g, and we don't think that's a huge part of our business.

"We will end 2003 with about 60 percent of out notebooks with built in WiFi and by mid next year that will rise to about 90 percent," added Frost.

Jim Johnson, general manager of Intel's wireless networking group, said he is sampling .11g chips that will appear in notebooks next spring and plans trimode chips that will appear in notebooks next fall. However, large companies will require their IT departments to go through a new qualification regime for .11g networks, he added. Nevertheless, he predicted use of WiFi in business networks could grow 30 percent next year.

The push for the 54 Mbit/s .11g is apparently trying to leverage upgrades from existing 11 Mbit/s .11b networks that also run on 2.4-GHz bands. Beyond that vendors hope to prepare a future upgrade cycle to the 5 GHZ .11a and then to a new 108 Mbit/s .11n standard also at 5 GHz and probably about 18 months away from completion.

"Most people think .11g represents the terminus for 2.4-GHz networks. But it's a good fit for voice-over-IP because the chips have relatively small die size and power consumption compared to .11a," said Ron Seide, a product line manager in Cisco's wireless unit.

- Rick Merritt

EE Times

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