Cisco integrates WLAN with wired networking products

"Cisco gets hip" might be the headline following news on Tuesday that the giant networking company is finally recognizing both the need to centrally manage large Wi-Fi networks and the new capabilities that mesh networks offer.

Introduced this week, Cisco System's Unified Wireless Network uses a centralized architecture for deploying WLANs across the enterprise. The devices come almost a year to the day after Symbol introduced the first device to the market, the WS 2000 Wireless Switch, in November 2004. Unlike Symbol and the competitors that followed, up until now Cisco's Wi-Fi solution required a network administrator to manage one access point at a time.

The change in approach follows by about eight months the acquisition of AirSpace, a company that developed a centralized management architecture.

According to Ben Gibson, director of marketing for wireless and mobility at Cisco, the introduction of the Unified Wireless Network comes as the market moves from using WLANs on a departmental scale to deployments on a company-wide scale.

"To secure an entire enterprise, offer guest access, and voice over WLAN, you need pervasive coverage versus selective coverage," Gibson said.

Taking the management focus one step further, Cisco also announced that the WLAN management modules will be integrated with its flagship enterprise and branch office switching and routing products.

The WLAN control module will be integrated with both the Catalyst 6500 enterprise router, which has the capability to control up to 1500 APs, and the 2800 and 3800 branch office routers, with maximum control of six access points.

"In the past, WLANs were an overlay network. Now we can integrate the two, [wired and wireless] with hardware, software, and services on a common platform," Gibson said.

For example, Network Admission Control, a key security feature that Cisco offered for its wired network, will now be offered for wireless as well on a single platform.

Sam Lucero, a senior analyst with ABI Research, said that despite the fact that many companies already offer centralized control of WLAN deployments, Cisco's entrance into this space validates the market.

The other market Cisco validated this week, according to Lucero, is mesh networking.

Cisco will introduce Aironet 1500 Series wireless access points, each with two radios. The Wi-Fi radio handles access and the second radio will be dedicated to wireless interconnectivity or the meshing across wireless and wired access points.

Along with the hardware, Cisco introduced its Adaptive Wireless Path Protocol, essentially its algorithm for selecting the best data path among the many access points laid out in a coverage area.

Like all wireless access points, the 1500 can be mounted anywhere there is access to a power source. The significance of mesh for both the enterprise and municipalities is the lower cost of deploying a wireless network outdoors. Mesh does not require each access point to be hard-wired to an Ethernet connection.

"The cost of wiring, especially outdoors, is huge and outweighs the higher prices being charged for wireless mesh access points," said Craig Matthias, principal with the Farpoint Group.

In addition to the cost savings, the time to lay out such a wireless network is also greatly reduced, Matthias said.

The Aironet 1500 is shipping now.

The WLAN control modules for the Catalyst 6500 and the branch office series, 2800 and 3800, will be available next month.

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