Cisco Puts Mobile Access Into High Gear

New technology lets router stay wirelessly connected to Net

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Cisco Systems is taking the concept of mobile access a step further with the release of a technology that allows a router to stay connected to the Internet while it is in motion.

Called Cisco Mobile Networks, the technology builds on the mobile IP concept and will be incorporated into Cisco's IOS operating system.

Cisco's Anand: Wireless service providers will be able to offer connectivity on planes and trains.

The technology is being tested by NASA and the U.S. Coast Guard, but Cisco envisions the day when wireless service providers will use the technology to provide connectivity to customers on planes, trains and cruise ships, said Vinay Anand, mobile IP product manager for Cisco IOS Technologies.

Allowing the router to stay wirelessly connected to the Internet while it travels across different networks opens up new opportunities, Anand said. The first implementations will probably be in the public sector, such as equipping ambulances with mobile routers that transmit patient data to doctors in realtime, he said.

Cisco Mobile Networks takes mobile IP to a new level, Anand added. Under Internet Protocol, connections are IP address to IP address, which works fine if a client is not moving. But as mobile clients move from subnet to subnet, they are assigned new IP addresses and IP applications disconnect, Anand said.

With mobile IP, clients can roam across networks while remaining constantly connected to the Internet using the same IP address. Cisco added a mobile client to its router software to give mobility to the LAN, Anand said.

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The technology will help spur wireless business, said Gary Berzack, CEO of Tribeca Technologies, a wireless solution provider in New York. "What we have now is a lot of regionalized wireless ISPs popping up," he said. The mobile router technology "helps span the gap. That helps drive business cases as wireless becomes more and more usable."

In equipping planes, cruise ships or trains, the mobile router would choose wireless LAN, satellite or cellular technology to connect to the Internet. Passengers would use either Ethernet or wireless LAN to connect to the mobile router, with no special client software needed.

Large trucking companies also are likely targets for the technology, Anand said. Many of those companies use wireless technology to transmit routing information and dispatch trucks, but the technologies vary and are proprietary, Anand said.

Before all this can happen on a wide scale commercially, however, access payment and settlement systems need to be developed, Anand added. He sees wireless service providers developing payment settlement systems along the lines of the cellular industry, where passengers would pay their own wireless service providers, which would pay each other for their clients accessing each others' networks.

While there have been no commercial deployments of the technology to date, NASA's work with the U.S. Coast Guard involves testing the technology's feasibility, said Will Ivancic, senior research engineer at NASA's John H. Glenn Research Center in Cleveland.

Ivancic said the Coast Guard is testing the mobile routers to connect ships with base stations. The Coast Guard is hoping off-the-shelf technology will be cheaper than the current specialized communications systems, he said.

NASA plans to test the routers on low earth orbit satellites as well, Ivancic said.

"What's nice about this is it allows an entire network to be in motion," Ivancic said. "That opens up possibilities for NASA, government and commercial applications."

The mobile router technology should also give mobile IP a push, Ivancic added. "Mobile IP has been stalled to date because every client needs special client software," he said. "But with the mobile router, that's no longer necessary."

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