FALL IDF: Intel, Cisco team up on Wi-Fi upgrade

Intel Corp. and Cisco Systems Inc. have joined to improve the Wi-Fi experience, initially by delivering better technology for VOIP (voice over Internet Protocol) and for enabling users to automatically connect to the best nearby network, company executives said Tuesday.

The partnership’s first two technologies, called the Business Class Wireless Suite, will become available next year, the executives said in a keynote address at the Intel Developer Forum in San Francisco.

In the keynote, Sean Maloney, Intel executive vice president and general manager of the Mobility Group, also demonstrated a next-generation handheld processor and announced a partnership with Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. Ltd. aimed at longer battery life.

The Intel-Cisco partnership also will focus on simplifying installation of Wi-Fi out of the box to improve both security and ease of use, with initiatives that span both the enterprise and consumer markets, Maloney and Giancarlo said. The partnership is an expansion of an existing relationship, according to a news release issued Tuesday.

To improve the quality of voice calls over Wi-Fi, Intel and Cisco will introduce technology that can give voice calls higher quality of service than data traffic, said Charles Giancarlo, Cisco senior vice president and chief development officer, and president of the company’s Linksys division. There will be components of the technology both on notebook PCs and on Cisco routers, he said.

“VOIP over Wi-Fi turns out to be really, really tricky,” Giancarlo said.

The other Wi-Fi enhancement the companies plan to release in 2006 will change the way clients automatically select a nearby access point when the user starts hooking up to a business wireless LAN. Rather than connecting to the access point with the strongest signal, clients will choose the access point with the most available bandwidth at the moment, Giancarlo said.

In some locations, this would be a more logical way to connect with Wi-Fi, as long as it logged the client on to a network with a reasonably strong signal, said Greg Collins, an analyst at Dell’Oro Group Inc., in Redwood City, California.

“If you have a high density of access points and high densities of users, then it might make sense to have that option,” Collins said.

Also Tuesday, the companies announced cooperation on network security. Intel will join Cisco’s Network Admission Control (NAC) program, in which Cisco routers can evaluate security information about a client before allowing it to connect to a network or access particular resources. The idea is to prevent new entrants to a network from introducing vulnerabilities. Among other things, under NAC a router could check whether the antivirus definitions on a visitor’s notebook PC are up to date.

Meanwhile, Cisco will join Intel’s Active Management Technology (AMT) program, which is intended to make IT systems more manageable, the companies said.

NAC and AMT will be compatible beginning in the fourth quarter of this year, according to the news release. When that happens, enterprises will be better able to defend against security threats, the companies said.

Also in the keynote, which focused on mobility and communications, Maloney demonstrated Intel’s next-generation processor for handhelds, code-named Monahans. It will follow the Bulverde, the current handheld platform.

A Monahans chip was running on a demonstration platform showing full-motion video. The chip was running at more than 1.2GHz, though Intel does not yet know whether it will manufacture it for speeds over 1GHz, Maloney said.

In a partnership with Matsushita, better known for its Panasonic brand name, Intel will develop technology to increase notebook battery life by as much as 30 percent, Maloney said. It will move Intel toward the goal of achieving 8 hours of battery life by 2008, he said.

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