Cisco Unveils High-speed Wireless LAN Strategy

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Cisco this week unveiled a new enterprise wireless LAN access point and its long-awaited strategy for the high-speed 802.11a wireless technology known as Wi-Fi5.

The networking hardware vendor launched the Aironet 1200 series access point, a dual-radio platform that supports both 802.11b, a.k.a. Wi-Fi, and 802.11a, said Ron Seide, product line manager for Cisco's wireless networking business unit. The platform also is designed to be upgradeable to support the newer 802.11g wireless LAN standard when product becomes available, Seide said.

Wireless LAN access points and network interface cards based on the popular 802.11b standard operate in the 2.4GHz range at 11 Mbps. APs and NICs based on the 802.11a standard operate in the 5GHz range at 54 Mbps. But products based on the two standards are not interoperable.

Because products based on the two standards are not interoperable, many clients have delayed broad implementations of wireless LANs to see which standard wins out, said Gary Berzack, CEO of New York-based wireless specialist Tribeca Technologies. Berzack said Cisco's new 1200 series access point will allay the fears of those clients.

"Now I can have answers for those people," Berzack said. "The fact that a market leader has identified its strategy will make a lot of clients more comfortable with wireless LANs."

The lack of interoperability between 802.11b and 802.11a has led to the development of the 802.11g standard. Products based on the 802.11g standard, expected in the first quarter of 2003, would operate in the 2.4GHz range at 54 Mbps. APs and NICs based on 802.11g would be interoperable with 802.11b products, since they operate in the same frequency.

The 1200 series will provide enterprise clients with flexibility, Berzack said. "If they're not sure which standard they will go with, I can tell them to buy this box," he said.

The new access point is available now equipped with 802.11b with a slot for an 802.11a radio card. The 802.11a cards are slated to be available in August, Seide said. When those cards are available, the access point can be converted to run 802.11a only, or run both 802.11b and 802.11a simultaneously, he said. And when 802.11g products become available, the AP can be upgraded to run 802.11g and 802.11a, he added.

The 1200 is designed to be appropriate for any installation, Seide said. The aluminum-casing and sleek design of the access point makes it appropriate for office environments as well as the tougher environments of warehouses and industrial facilities. The ruggedized access point can operate in temperatures from -20 degrees C to 55 degrees C, he said.

The flexible nature of the 1200 access point is designed with solution provider partners in mind, Seide said. "Now we have one enterprise device that can handle it all," he said. "Our partners can become experts on this one platform and serve the needs of clients in almost any setting, and they can keep going back to enhance the value of the product with upgrades."

The 1200 series access point is available now with a list price of $999 equipped with 802.11b. An 802.11a only model will be priced at $1,349. A combo 802.11a and 802.11b model will be priced at $1,499. The 802.11a NICS will list at $229.

While the new Cisco access points are priced considerably higher than many other wireless LAN access points on the market, they are competitive, Seide added.

"Just as it has already with wired Ethernet products, the market for wireless Ethernet products is bipolarizing," he said. "There are a lot of companies producing low-priced access points that do a fine job for the small office or home environment, but they are not enterprise-class products."

The Cisco access points support security, quality of service and mobility features, and can be configured, managed and upgraded remotely, he said.

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