Cisco unveils 802.11n controller, OfficeExtend

Cisco Systems Inc. this week unveiled its Collaboration in Motion set of products and services, which include controller hardware for wireless networks using the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) 802.11n draft standard.

The 5500 Series Wireless LAN controller costs anywhere from $10,995 (for up to 12 access points) to $93,995 (for 250 access points), depending on scalability.

With 802.11n support, the controller is suited for wireless networks running video, said Christopher Thompson, Cisco’s senior director for mobility solutions marketing.

“In most networks, once you introduce voice and video sessions, the total number of sessions that can be supported using legacy controllers often reduces very quickly because of the video,” Thompson said. “This controller was designed to deliver consistent quality of service even when several hundred video sessions were running simultaneously through the controller.”

One beta tester is the University of British Columbia, which is starting to install 802.11n wireless access points at its Vancouver and Kelowna campuses, which together have more than 250 buildings. The university has been using 802.11a, b and g equipment for some time, said Marilyn Hay, manager of UBC’s network management centre.

She added UBC has 65,000 users among its faculty, staff and students, and has some times had more than 10,000 concurrent wireless users.

“We’ve had wireless for a number of years, and with students, they have all kinds of laptops and configurations that they are using so we support as many of them as we can,” she said. UBC plans to add more 5500 series controllers because of the number of access points the hardware can support.

Other products in the Collaboration in Motion family include the Aironet 1524 mesh access point, the 3300 Mobility Services Engine and OfficeExtend, which lets managers deliver voice, video and data services to remote employees.

Thompson said with OfficeExtend, a network manager can provision an 1130 or 1140 access point and give it to a user, who can take it home and connect to a broadband connection.

“That access point phones home, basically, back to the 5500 series controller, and automatically provisions itself,” a process that usually takes 90 seconds, Thompson said. Then teleworker can authenticate to the corporate wireless network in the house as if they are at the office

The OfficeExtend for mobile workspaces can work with Cisco’s 7921 and 7925 wireless IP phones, Thompson said.

The product can be used for consultants or other people who are working at customer sites for extended period of time, he said.

Cisco also announced a new Compatible Extensions Program, which lets device and components manufacturers add more wireless services to their devices.

The overall vision is to connect non-IT devices to wireless networks, Thompson said.

“The challenge that we’ve seen is new devices are coming into the network, like dual mode phones, netbooks, or think about things like photocopiers or surveillance cameras or video in a conference room,” he said. “We needed a faster way for vendors to test and certify that their devices were compliant”

One possible application is electronic medical records.

“Think about the last time you went to the doctor and the nurse took your blood pressure and went to a separate system to either record your blood pressure or write it down in a patient management file,” Thompson said. “There’s a really simple question, which is, ‘Why isn’t that blood pressure cuff connected to the wireless network so that data could automatically connect to your patient record?’ That’s the kind of devices we want to see connected.”

Partners in the Compatible Extensions program include: Atheros Communications Inc., a component maker based in Santa Clara, Calif., makes semiconductors for wireless devices; Broadcom Corp. of Irvine, Calif., which makes chips for networking equipment; Ekahau Inc., which makes real-time location tracking and Wi-Fi site survey equipment; Intermec Technologies Corp. of Everett, Wash., which makes bar code scanners and radiofrequency identification equipment and also resells Cisco wireless LAN hardware; Polycom Corp. of Pleasanton, Calif., which makes video conferencing and media streaming equipment; Redpine Signals Inc. of San Jose, Calif., a components manufacturer specializing in 802.11 gear; Summit Data Communications Inc. of Akron, Ohio, which makes radio modules for devices such as handheld data terminals, WLAN infrastructure, medical devices and vehicle-mounted terminals; Texas Instruments Inc.; and Intel Corp.

Collaboration in Motion also includes services such as evaluating devices like voice and video, to ensure they work well on a wireless network.

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