Cisco exec: Wi-Fi ready for the enterprise

Consumers have been quicker to adopt wireless LANs (WLANS) than enterprises, but issues holding back enterprise adoption have been solved, clearing the way for businesses to hop on the WLAN train, a Cisco Systems executive said Wednesday.

Enterprises are slow to adopt wireless networks because of perceived security holes, deployment complexity, management concerns and perceived low return on investment, said Steve Nye, general manager of Cisco's Building Broadband Solutions unit. All those are issues of the past, Nye said in a speech at the Wi-Fi Planet Conference & Expo in San Jose, California.

The first generation of WLAN security was flawed, but those problems have been solved with Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA) and work being done by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers 802.11i working group which will "put to bed the perception that security is an issue," Nye said. 802.11i promises stronger encryption, better key management and authentication, he said.

Deployment and management issues can be solved with a common management scheme, integrating the WLAN, popularly known as Wi-Fi, into the wired LAN, Nye said. Products are available to allow central control of the network and to enforce company policies, he said.

There is also proof that wireless networks provide business benefits, Nye said. He cited a study that showed that workers in businesses with a WLAN were connected to their company network 1.75 hours more per day in 2001, a figure that went up to 3.5 hours more daily online time in 2003. "If we can provide the tools to our employees, they can now work when they want, where they want," Nye said.

Adoption of Wi-Fi meanwhile is being driven by the availability of more devices with built-in support for wireless networking, such as notebook computers and handhelds. Still, wireless networks won't be pervasive until the issue of roaming is solved and users can sign on easily wherever they are, Nye said.

"Somebody has to be able to open their laptop and logon wherever they are. When this occurs, seamless roaming, that is when this will really take off and when behavioral change will occur, and when we will really have changed this paradigm from working in one place to working anywhere we want," Nye said.

Proof that running a Wi-Fi network isn't all that straightforward was given at the Wi-Fi Planet Conference & Expo itself, where the WLAN was intermittently available.

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