Cisco shares security technology for WLANs

Cisco Systems last month announced its Cisco Compatible Extensions (CCX) version 1.0, a program that further entrenches the company into the wireless LAN (WLAN) arena by sharing its technology with other vendors.

The no-cost licensing scheme and testing program is targeted at third-party client adapters of the company’s Aironet WLAN infrastructure and a handful of silicon suppliers that produce products which are Cisco-compatible.

For example, IBM’s ThinkPad line of notebook computers will be CCX-enabled and Intel Corp., a lead collaborator along with Cisco in this endeavour, recently released Centrino, a chip for mobile devices that is also CCX compliant.

The list of seven suppliers includes Atheros Communications Inc., Texas Instruments Inc., Hewlett-Packard Co., Intel and IBM Corp.

CCX was released nine months ago, with some of its key features focusing on security and management. Its main objective is to provide interoperability between the client’s WLAN solution and Cisco’s WLAN infrastructure, explained Bill Rossi, vice-president and general manager of the wireless networking business unit at Cisco.

Rossi said the company offers backward compatibility support for 802.11a and .11b and in the future, to .11g and dual-radio .11ag devices. He called it an important part of CCX.

“We believe that CCX is complimentary to industry efforts such as the Wi-Fi Alliance and the IEEE,” he said. Ultimately, the goal is to accelerate WLAN adoption in the enterprise, he noted.

Yet, WLAN to date is being driven by the small and home office market and consumer segment. A recent reported published by Toronto-based SeaBoard Group Inc. said that adoption in the enterprise is growing – but slowly. It also noted that the cost benefits of Wi-Fi and the like cannot be ignored.

Chris Kozup, senior research analyst at the Meta Group, said the time for WLAN adoption is between now and next year, when the declining costs for WLANs would make it increasingly attractive to the enterprise.

“Enterprises are experiencing a hefty grass roots push for the adoption of wireless technology,” Kozup said. He added that the challenges are avoiding the mixed bag of protocols in the past that included token-ring, asynchronous transfer mode (ATM) and Frame Relay.

“What they don’t want is to repeat past mistakes,” Kozup said, pointing out that historically the enterprise waited too long to adopt new technology. He explained that LANs employing mixed protocols and even disparate desktop computer platforms slipped in “through the back door,” making it difficult for corporations to standardize.

Kozup said the biggest obstacle to adoption in the enterprise is the issue around security. He said vendors could make WLAN deployment less arduous by collaborating, just as they are with Cisco’s CCX.

CCX version 2.0 is slated for release over the next several months. Rossi said it will focus on enhancements to security in Wi-Fi protected access and one time password support for authentication, improved roaming in remote areas and enhanced management features to give IT more control over the WLAN environment.

Cisco is online at

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