Cisco Late to WiMax Party

Currently trails Nokia, Proxim, and others in wireless MAN race – but analysts mumble something about tortoises, hares UPDATED 03/31 6:41 PM

March 30, 2004

3 Min Read
Cisco Late to WiMax Party

Networking titan Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) is late to the WiMax party, but analysts expect that it will have to turn up eventually, and when it does: Look out, Mary!

The wireless metropolitan area network (MAN) specification -- 802.16a revision d, or WiMax to its mates -- is being championed by Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC), Cisco rivals Nokia Corp. (NYSE: NOK), and Proxim Corp. (Nasdaq: PROX), and many of the smaller so-and-sos in the fixed wireless equipment market.

Supporters of the WiMax spec -- which is intended to provide high-speed wireless data services over distances of 30 miles or so -- make some bold claims for the spec. Intel is pushing it as a cable/DSL replacement, especially in areas that are difficult to wire up, while others talk about the technology as replacing everything from wireless LAN to third-generation cellular systems [ed. note: it chops, slices, and dices!].

Cisco, which may be once-bitten-twice-shy around these kinds of wireless MAN plays, because of its unsuccessful acquisition of Clarity Wireless back in the late nineties,isn't saying much of anything about plans for WiMax.

"It's Cisco's policy not to discuss unannounced products," a company spokesperson wrote in a email reply to questions.

Nonetheless, analysts think that Cisco will have to get in on this action.

”In my humble opinion, they have no choice,” says Craig Mathias, principal at analyst and consulting firm, the Farpoint Group. “Cisco’s a networking company and the world is going wireless.”

“They’re already number one in wireless LAN; how hard can it be?” he muses.

Chris Kozup at the Meta Group Inc. concurs: “I would expect that as the specification moves closer to delivering product and silicon comes along Cisco will add [WiMax] to its product line," he says, going out on the world's shortest limb.

Most observers expect WiMax systems to start arriving in volume around the middle of next year.

Kozup thinks that WiMax products will easily slip into Cisco’s enterprise wireless offerings, supplementing -- or supplanting -- the 54-Mbit/s 1400 series 802.11 box that Cisco currently offers customers for outdoor network bridging applications.

But Cisco says that it has a history of 802.11 bridging products and plans to stick with that standard. "Given the high level of integration that has been achieved in the 802.11 space, Cisco finds 802.11 to be the fastest, most cost effective, and most tested path to standardized metro wireless bridging," writes the spokesperson.

Farpoint's Mathias notes that Cisco's experience with Clarity may have colored the firm's attitude towards the wireless MAN market.

Cisco bought Clarity back in 1998 for $157 million in stock and ended up cancelling the product line in November 2001 because of poor sales. Many of the brains at Clarity ended up at WLAN sooper WiFi chip startup Airgo Networks.

Farpoint’s Mathias thinks that Cisco got in on the game too early with Clarity. “Cisco was definitely ahead of its time to think about buying them,” he says. "But they kind of let it die on the vine, didn't they?"

— Dan Jones, Site Editor, Unstrung

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