Cisco outlines strategy for ubiquitous connectivity

Cisco Systems executives on Thursday outlined a two-pronged strategy to deliver high-speed, ubiquitous Internet access.

Two key markets, wireless technology and broadband services in previously unwirable buildings, will encourage the drive toward connectivity anywhere and at any time, Mike Volpi, Cisco's chief strategy officer, said during a biefing at the company's San Jose, Calif., headquarters. "Continuity of Ethernet is very important to our customer base," Volpi said.

"We're able to provide a complete solution now -- maybe not for full mobility, but for what you might call a 'nomadic' lifestyle," said Charles Giancarlo, senior vice president of Cisco's commercial and consumer divisions. "You can get access to applications both in your office and when you're on the road."

Sales of Cisco's Aironet 350 family of WLAN (wireless LAN) devices will be boosted by demand from mobile workers, the health care sector, educational institutions, and retail kiosks, according to Volpi. He added that in the coming months Cisco will announce partnerships with companies that use retail kiosks, such as cafes and airport red-carpet clubs.

The company also plans to target the transportation sector, hoping to install its WLAN solution on airplanes and trains. No new product announcements were made during the briefing.

Cahners In-Stat Group, the Scottsdale, Ariz.-based research group, has predicted that the 802.11b market will grow from US$1.8 billion today to $2.7 billion in 2003. Cisco enjoyed a 50 percent growth spurt in its wireless products in 2000 and anticipates another 50 percent to 75 percent gain this year, according to Giancarlo.

Volpi added that the 802.11b wireless standard (which Cisco has embraced) complements, rather than competes against, the nascent 3G (third-generation) wireless standard, because the two technologies can work together to provide blanket-coverage Ethernet access.

For example, "if I roam into a wireless LAN arena, I have a full 10Mbps. But in my car or an area where I don't have that coverage, I resort back to the lower bandwidth, but more ubiquitous, 2.5G or 3G technology," Volpi said. He added that Cisco is currently having talks with device manufacturers who may integrate the 3G and 802.11b technologies on dual-mode devices.

The Ochsner Medical Institute in New Orleans is currently using Cisco's WLAN solution.

"Wireless has allowed caretakers to get to patients and initiate treatment earlier," said Dr. Joe Guarisco, the Institute's chairman of emergency services. "Right away, we cut 20 to 25 minutes off the patient's length of stay in the emergency department by moving the registration process from a desktop to a wireless application in the patient's room."

The University of North Carolina also uses Cisco's WLAN technology on its campus. "These are beautiful buildings, and the last thing we want to do is change the character of a really gorgeous building through technology," said Marian Moore, UNC's vice chancellor of IT. "Wireless allows us to put technology into a building, and you don't see it or feel it."

Cisco officials also addressed the company's LRE (Long-Reach Ethernet) technology as another means of delivering ubiquitous broadband services. Cisco's LRE solution uses switches, customer premises equipment, and splitters to deliver Ethernet speeds over legacy telephone wires. The technology is aimed mostly at hotels and multi-tenant or multi-dwelling buildings, where pulling new cable through the walls is either too expensive or structurally impossible.

"The investment level is now just the equipment you put in, as opposed to overhauling the entire infrastructure," Volpi said. Again, however, Cisco did not unveil any new products.

Redwood City, Calif.-based analysis firm Dell'Oro Group has estimated that the number of broadband units sold to multi-tenant, multi-dwelling, and multi-home buildings will quintuple from 5 million today to more than 25 million units in 2004.

Giancarlo announced that Cisco has partnered with Starwood Hotels, the White Plains, N.Y.-based chain, to deploy 200 LRE solutions during the next 12 months. According to Giancarlo, Starwood will soon install VOIP (voice over IP) and video services over their existing infrastructure.

During a product demonstration, Giancarlo demonstrated LRE connectivity over a range of legacy media, including barbed wire.

In keeping with Cisco's traditional strategy, both the WLAN and LRE initiatives have been propelled by acquisitions. Cisco's buyout of Aironet Wireless Communications in 1999 provided the San Jose, Calif.-based network equipment maker with its Aironet 340 and 350 WLAN devices. The company's 2000 purchase of Washington-based service provider CAIS Internet yielded subscriber management technology for Cisco's LRE line.

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