Cisco Wraps Up Airespace Acquisition


With the acquisition, which was announced in January at a price tag of $450 million, San Jose, Calif.-based Cisco is plugging a hole in the middle of its WLAN portfolio, solution providers said.

At the same time, the acquisition means that Cisco competitors Alcatel and Nortel Networks must sign new OEM and joint development partnerships with WLAN vendors. Both vendors previously had partnered with San Jose-based Airespace. Nortel on Wednesday unveiled a pact with Trapeze Networks, and the day before Alcatel tapped Aruba Wireless Networks to fill the void.

Robert Keblusek, senior vice president of business development at Sentinel Technologies, a Downers Grove, Ill.-based Cisco Gold partner, said he's optimistic about the new wireless opportunities that the Airespace purchase will bring Cisco partners. Still, he added that he's anxious to hear more details about Cisco's plans to integrate the Airespace technology.

"We don't really know for sure what direction they're headed in," Keblusek said.

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Cisco plans to offer a full WLAN portfolio that supports its existing wireless products and the Airespace portfolio, integrating Airespace's technology with its own where appropriate, Alex Thurber, director of security and wireless for worldwide channels at Cisco, said in a recent interview. "We have more intelligent APs at the low end, where they don't need to be managed, and at the high end we'll have [managed offerings]," Thurber said.

With the completion of the acquisition, Airespace's products become part of the Cisco Structured Wireless-Aware Network (SWAN) portfolio, and its team joins Cisco's Wireless Networking Business Unit under vice presidents Brett Galloway and David Leonard, according to Cisco.

Cisco's acquisition of Airespace signals the end of the "fat vs. thin" WLAN architecture debate, industry observers said, explaining that Cisco's apparent backing of the WLAN switch model solidifies its position as the dominant wireless architecture. WLAN platforms based on stand-alone intelligent or "fat" access points are now relegated only to small deployments where there are too few access points to justify the centrally managed solution offered by "thin" stripped-down APs paired with WLAN switches, they said.

Cisco has been the most vocal proponent of the fat wireless architecture but seemingly reversed course with its purchase of Airespace, which makes WLAN switches and thin APs.

"The Cisco-Airespace deal really killed that whole argument," said Aaron Vance, senior analyst at Synergy Research Group. "Cisco was the main proponent [of fat APs] and pretty much one of the last soldiers standing."

Airespace was the No. 2 vendor of wireless LAN switches/controllers in 2004 with nearly 25 percent of the market, behind No. 1 Symbol Technologies, which had nearly 43 percent of the market, according to Synergy Research Group.