Cisco takes flight with Aironet 1200

In anticipation of up-and-coming wireless standards, Cisco Systems Inc. last month launched its latest line of Aironet Access Point wireless base stations, standalone devices that plug into a hub or server. The company said the products will accommodate all of today’s wireless LAN (WLAN) hardware and software standards, as well as provide easy upgrades down the road.

WLANs have plagued users due to the alphabet soup of 802.11 standards that exist. The most popular of these – 802.11b – has been shipping for years, and runs in the 2.4GHz spectrum, the same range used by microwaves and cordless phones. Its successor, 802.11a, is a faster and more secure standard which operates in the 5GHz band, and features more channels.

But on the horizon is yet another addition to the list: 802.11g, a standard which will operate in the 2.4GHz band, and will enable enterprises to move to a faster option than their existing 802.11 nets.

Cisco’s new Aironet 1200 Series Access Point was designed to address all of these in one shot.

Ron Seide, Aironet product line manager for Cisco’s Wireless Networking Business Unit, explained one of the main differences between the new offering and the older 340 and 350 lines is standard interoperability. Able to operate in both the 2.4GHz and 5GHz frequency bands, the 1200 series will enable users to move from one to the other without any headaches, according to Seide. While fitted with a standard 802.11b module, the product features an additional slot for an 802.11a module. And, as 802.11g equipment becomes available sometime next year, users will be able to upgrade to it as well.

“The idea of modularity, flexibility and field upgradeability is really central to 1200 Series Access Point, and this is very much in response to the customer feedback we have been getting over the last couple of years – that customers are aware of upcoming standards like .11a, like .11g,” Seide said.

But with 802.11b being the most-used spec, how many enterprises will be willing and able to migrate to another?

“There is a lot of talk about 802.11g, initiated by the IEEE [Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers] and a few vendors,” said Warren Chaisatien, a telecom analyst with IDC Canada Ltd. in Toronto. “(But) in terms of practical usage, I think 802.11b will continue to reign supreme in the marketplace.” Chaisatien added that the wireless enterprise market – meaning the move for companies to mobilize their applications – is very small compared to traditional wireless, meaning voice.

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has been using Cisco’s Aironet 340 series of WLAN products for a few years to support a laptop requirement put in place in 2001 for its undergraduates. At press time the school anticipated getting the 1200 series very soon for testing. And while realizing that the university will need to move with the times, having to migrate to 802.11a -and possibly 802.11g – could be a very big deal, according to Marian Moore, the school’s vice-chancellor of IT.

“Our issue is going to be that we have a lot of 802.11b out there, and we have students with wireless cards,” she said. “And this coming summer we’ll be handing out laptops that have 802.11b.…So we know we are going to be supporting 802.11b for a long time, but we expect to always have to transition to higher speeds. That’s just the nature of the business.

“This market segment is changing really rapidly. Now that vendors are coming out with product for 802.11a, I don’t really expect them to really spend a lot of time with 802.11b,” Moore added.

She explained that this is just like every other technology, and that it is important to allow yourself to remain flexible because product lines are always going to change and things are always going to get faster.

As for a decision on a migration: “We’re certainly satisfied with our current 340s, and we’re always interested in making sure that we keep up with technology. I think we’ll know a lot more after we do some testing,” Moore said.

The standard version of the 1200, priced at US$999, is now available. The dual-band version will be available in August and will be priced at US$1,499. For more information on Cisco’s Aironet 1200 Series, visit http://