Critics Call Cisco WLAN Program Exclusionary

The Cisco Compatible Extensions Program offers select partners a no-cost licensing agreement to enable the interoperability of third-party client adapters and mobile devices with Cisco Aironet WLAN security infrastructure.

Proxim, a competing wireless vendor based in Sunnyvale, Calif., called the announcement a "further proprietary move by Cisco to lock customers into their infrastructure."

Angela Champness, senior vice president and general manager of Proxim's WLAN division, said Cisco is trying to set the industry back to the 'proprietary days' before IEEE and the Wi-Fi Alliance.

But Ron Seide, product line manager at Cisco's Wireless Networking Business Unit, dismissed the criticism. Cisco compatibility requires full 802.11 and Wi-Fi compliance, said Seide, adding that the vendor is a member of the Wi-Fi board of directors.

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"This is not any sort of proprietary move. This is not Cisco trying to set the industry back or set any kind of alternative standard," Seide said. "Rather, it's a furthering of the existing standards."

Cisco may not have consulted with competitors, but its Compatible Extensions Program is driven by and designed for reseller partners and end-user customers, Seide said.

Some solution providers, however, don't see the program as necessarily positive.

"[It's] an outstanding template to design a presentation," said Gary Berzack, CEO of Tribeca Technologies, a New York-based solution provider specializing in wireless deployments. "But it really should be coming from the Wi-Fi camp and not just the manufacturer's logo."

The biggest problem with Cisco's program is that it's exclusionary, Berzack said. Initially, using the Cisco-compatible logo may help close business more quickly, but it may prevent adding anything to the solution that's not Cisco-compatible, he said.

"That locks me in, and it locks my customer in," Berzack said. "I can understand Cisco wanting to define compatibility to its extensive networking design, but to call it an alliance when there's already a standards base is unfair."

The Wi-Fi Alliance, a nonprofit association formed to certify interoperability of WLAN products based on IEEE 802.11 specifications, had not commented on the matter as of press time. About 600 products have received Wi-Fi certification since March 2000.