Cisco takes big steps in wireless LAN market

Providing the means to reliably deploy wireless LANs has put Cisco ahead of the pack, according to one analyst.

Michael Spayer, director with the Yankee Group in Boston, said Cisco’s recent release of the Aironet 350 Series of 802.11b-compliant wireless LAN products will meet the needs of IT managers who work with this type of technology.

According to Cisco, the Aironet 350 Series includes a family of high-speed access points, bridges and client adapters.

Derick Linegar, a Toronto-based consulting systems engineer for Cisco Systems, said the 350 series is an evolutionary product that builds on top of the existing strength of the previous version, the Aironet 340.

“(350) adds a series of new features that makes mass deployment of wireless LAN environments much more attractive to customers,” Linegar said.

He explained that the 350 Series is available in two flavours: indoor – the Aironent 350 Wireless Access point; and outdoor – the Aironet 350 Wireless Bridge. The outdoor series allows for the ability to set up high-bandwidth connections between two buildings within line-of-sight, he added.

“If you have two buildings across the street from each other, it is quite conceivable that for very little money, you could set up two bridges on each side and set up an 11.2Mbps connection between them for almost nothing at all,” Linegar said. “If you had to go through (your local telco) you would have to spend thousands on a monthly basis.”

He said that more people are hopping on the bandwagon and realizing that this is an inexpensive way to get Megabits between two buildings.

Cisco said that with the 350 Series, it has provided a way to carry both data and power over the same category five LAN cable – normally used to plug in laptops – called inline power.

“The Aironet 350 Access Points are all inline power-capable,” Linegar said. “You don’t have to spend thousands of dollars to bring power up into the ceiling. You just run the data cable to the Access Point and plug it into an inline power multiple hop switch or injector.”

As far as security features go, Cisco said the 350’s wireless networking security framework is based upon the proposed IEEE 802.1x standard, allowing enterprises to scale wireless deployments to thousands of users with a standard, centralized security management framework.

“In the past there was no way to do a per-user authentication,” Linegar said. “With the 350 series and the new software, we have introduced this new protocol – extendable authentication protocol (EAP) – which ties into a RADIUS back-end server. We can now do per-user authentication on the fly, and encryption.”

He added that the 350 series comes with centralized key management, allowing simpler massive large-scale deployment.

Spayer noted that there are several issues that Cisco is trying to address with the release of the 350 series. He said that, most significantly, wiring in existing buildings is increasingly difficult for tenants to manage and is in locations where the user population requires a higher degree of mobility, such as a college campus.

“It addresses these (issues) as well as any product, in that you can simply install the equipment and you are able to roam around the building,” Spayer said. “If you are in a school environment or an area where you need to get connectivity, you can use it. The Cisco solution is a very solid solution and it comes with all the Cisco benefits.”

Linegar said that existing Cisco customers are very interested in the Aironet 350 series and IEEE 802.11b in general because it allows them to extend the coverage of their wired infrastructure using wireless.

“I predict that pretty much the whole Cisco customer base, from the top tier to the small and medium business, is a target for the Aironet 350,” he said. “A lot of our competitors sell equivalent 802.11b wireless systems. Cisco provides the integration of the wireless systems with the existing Cisco network infrastructure you have today. The whole solution aspect of that comes together as we tie the different pieces together.”

The Cisco Aironet is available now. Product prices range from $345 to $8,995. For details, visit