Cisco unveils plan for WLANs

Cisco Systems Ltd. unveiled a plan for managing wireless local area networks (WLANs) earlier this month, which one analyst said helps the company remain competitive.

The framework, called the Structured Wireless-Aware Network, is intended for an integrated wired and wireless network and includes products and upgrades that enable a network administrator to centrally manage wireless LANs, said Shripati Acharya, head of marketing for the wireless networking business unit at Cisco in San Jose.

“We really want to make managing hundreds of thousands of access points as easy as managing a few access points,” Acharya said.

While scalability is one main driving force behind the management and operations framework, security including rogue (or unapproved) access point detection, as well as making wireless LANs as reliable and secure as LANs, are other reasons for the new network plan, he added.

“Rogues are a huge problem,” Acharya said. “The new framework will allow for early detection of access point rogues. Through the wireless framework, administrators will have the ability to detect interference, locate it, and [have the] ability to work with it.”

Overall, the offering is falling into line with what other vendors already have on the market, said San Jose-based Ken Dulaney, vice-president of mobile computing with Gartner Inc. “Cisco needed to do this for competitive reasons. They were behind the game until this announcement.”

“What Cisco has done is they’ve permitted the radio measurements to also be used for capacity planning and potential, even dynamic capacity planning,” Dulaney said. “They can spot overloads, help realign the access points, maybe relay them out, or adjust their power parameters – which many allow them to better tune the system for users individual needs.”

Eventually, Dulaney said, Cisco will add a lot of automatic features, where the system will more dynamically reconfigure itself.

Cisco’s plan includes new software upgrades to lay the foundation for a centrally managed network. Starting later this summer the San Jose -based company will deploy a series of software upgrades and hardware designs in order to achieve its main objectives, he said.

Upgrades will be made to Cisco’s Aironet 1100 and 1200 series access points, Cisco Catalyst 3750, 4500 and 6500 series switches and Cisco 2600XM and 3700 series routers.

The 1200 series access points are a deficiency in the overall framework because the devices don’t cover all of the bands within the 5.0 GHz range, Dulaney said.

“Someone could buy an access point and plug it into the wall and be broadcasting Ethernet signals out and the Cisco access point wouldn’t detect it,” he said. “The management system works fine, it’s just they need to upgrade the radio in their model 1200 access point.”

Other components of the solution include an upgrade to version 2.0 of WLSE for management and monitoring.

The new version of WLSE will support 500 to 2,500 access points – a significant increase from the 500 that the previous version supported, he added.

Cisco’s Structured Wireless-Aware Network capabilities are available as a Cisco IOS Software upgrade for the access points.

In fourth quarter this year, Cisco said it would develop the WLSE further with a version 2.5, and a corresponding Cisco IOS Software upgrade. Version 2.5 will include the rogue detection technology.

For centralized authentication, Cisco’s Secure Access Control Server will be part of the plan, as will Cisco Compatible client adapters for Radio Frequency (RF) monitoring and measurement.

In other news, Cisco is unveiling the Cisco Aironet 1400 Series Wireless Bridge and all necessary accessories and components at a list price of US$4,999, and is scheduled to ship this month.

Cisco also introduced Cisco Secure Access Control Server Solution Engine 3.2. It has a list price of US$11,995 and will also ship this month.

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