Cisco initiative to help pros on the go

Keeping the mobile worker connected at work, home and in transit is the vision of the Cisco Internet Mobile Office, according to the company.

Cisco said the new initiative will provide mobile business professionals with secure, high-speed network access from public facilities, namely airports and hotels.

According to Beth Vanni, Cisco’s director of marketing, the significance of the recent announcement lies both in the technologies as well as in the partners who are going to take those technologies to market.

“In this case, what we have announced is an initial set of partnerships with some very key service providers,” Vanni said. “They are designing and building out the wired and wireless networks in a lot of the airports, airline lounges, convention centres and hotels.”

With the help of the four initial service providers – Wayport, Global Digital Media, MobileStar and Concourse Communications – Cisco says the Internet Mobile Office will offer a complete solution that delivers seamless connectivity between mobile professionals and their enterprise networks.

The partnership development, Vanni explained, stemmed from two reasons.

“One is because [the partners] have been deploying our technology in these facilities, but also because they have very specific plans to focus on these specific markets that have been difficult in the past to get technology deployed,” she said. “They are all CPN- (Cisco Powered Network) certified, which means they have a certain quality in their approach to designing the networks, and how they install them.”

Cisco’s Internet Mobile Office is already available in over 300 locations in the U.S. Vanni said the Internet Mobile Offices are set up differently according to the different service provider.

“Some of them have a walk up, pay-as-you-go kiosk,” she said. “Most of them have actually worked with the airport authority and the facility management folks to literally wire, in the rafters and in the architecture of the building, these wireless access points which give a certain amount of range with your wireless card, or your network interface card in your laptop. You’d be sitting, for example, at gate A5 and you’d flip up your laptop and it would sense the access point in the area and give you immediate broadband Internet access.”

Important to the user experience, Vanni said, are two new technology alliances. Cisco has teamed up with San Diego Calif.-based CAISSoft to provide an integrated billing plan similar to that of wireless carriers.

“When you move from location to location, you don’t receive separate bills,” Vanni said. “It’s an integrated billing scenario that works across all of the service providers.”

The other partnership is with Redwood Shores Calif.-based iPass Inc., which Vanni said will ensure a seamless roaming capability to guarantee that IP addresses do not connect and disconnect when moving from location to location.

“The whole emphasis of this campaign is that it’s not just Internet access,” Vanni said. “It’s Internet access securely back to these mobile business professionals’ corporate LANs.”

Vanni added that Cisco offers complete end-to-end access and site-to-site VPN solutions, which she said will be a great accelerator to people feeling comfortable using this technology securely in the facilities.

However, Michael Spayer, director of small and medium business communications for Yankee Group in Boston, said that he does not anticipate the Cisco Internet Mobile Office to be a breakthrough initiative.

“I think there is a very intricate number of people that need to come to the party to make this thing work,” Spayer said. “It’s going to require some pretty good execution just to make this whole thing work on a nation-wide or global basis.”

Spayer did say, however, that the Internet Mobile Office is a very low-penetration market that could offer a potentially high financial return, and will simply allow Cisco to “sell more gear.”

“There will be those people who will love it,” he said. “I don’t think it’s going to be ubiquitously used immediately. It will be a number of years before a lot of people will start to use it, but initially there will be those people who will find it indispensable.”

Vanni said there are facilities that are already wired today that will become part of this initiative. She said there are a number of facilities in Europe that are similarly wired or have wireless technology, but have not yet participated in the sales and marketing aspect.

“(By mid next year) we can expect that there will be thousands (of these facilities),” she said. “Today, the ones we have done our quality check on and the ones that have our stamp of approval are largely U.S.-based, but there are others waiting in the wings, both in Canada and in the rest of the world.”

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