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Cisco Gets Meshy

(Nasdaq: CSCO) is announcing its first wireless LAN mesh products today, in a move that indicates the fast growing interest in this metropolitan-orientated WiFi technology.

As Unstrung reported recently, Cisco has had mesh technology on its roadmap since it acquired Airespace for $450 million in December 2004. The startup had originally planned to launch mesh products in March of 2005. (See Cisco Plots Mesh)

Cisco has now just started to ship its first mesh products -- the two-radio 1500 series outdoor access points (APs). The products use one 802.11 radio to provide connectivity to the Internet and one that works in conjunction with the other APs in the network to provide the wireless mesh -- allowing connections to the wired network without a cable running to every AP.

Cisco has partnered with Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE: HPQ) and IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM), among others, to push its outdoor mesh products. The networking giant is promoting its new products with two metro-mesh trials in the towns of Dayton, Ohio, and Lebanon, Oregon, but the firm isn't solely focused on the cityscape.

"Cisco is looking at this market in broad fashion," says Cisco Ben Gibson, director of marketing. "We are very comfortable with our solution, technology, and global go to-market strategy. We have a host of partners, large and small, and a Cisco sales force ready to go with this solution."

As well as metro-mesh, Cisco is looking at the outdoor APs as a potential enterprise campus system and for public safety offerings with a slighty different 4.9Ghz radio. Cisco already has a $15 million outdoor wireless business with campus WiFi bridges and routers used in the public safety market.

To facilitate such applications, Cisco is applying the same management software that it uses for Airespace indoor enterprise deployments for these new outdoor units.

But, although citywide mesh is clearly a big-ticket item for now, it is by no means the only market in Cisco's sights. "It has the appearance of being really hot," Alan Cohen, senior director at Cisco's wireless business networking unit, says of the metro space. "But we think there are a lot of other markets that are adopting rapidly."

Cisco's widely anticipated entry into the market has certainly set the cat amongst the pigeons for the mesh startups.

Tropos Networks, which is regarded as one of the leaders in the metro-mesh market with over 250 customers, has an announcement of a new partner program with 18 companies due Monday. The startup plans to open its technology so that third parties such as Ruckus Wireless Inc. can more simply build hardware and applications that connect to the Tropos mesh infrastructure.

Cisco's entry into the market is another major sign that mesh is now mainstream. This sea change was signaled when Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT) bought startup pioneer Mesh Networks in November 2004. (See Moto Gets Mesh.)

"It's the maturation of the market, it's the gray hair below the sideburn," says a cryptic Cohen.

— Dan Jones, Site Editor, Unstrung

Epilogue: And you thought we managed to get through a whole article with Cohen without so much as a literary reference. Well, think again, Gentle Reader, think again!

He emailed Unstrung Tuesday afternoon with an update:

Our unified architecture: wired/wireless, indoor/outdoor is pulled together by the complete systems and software layer. It is what separates us from all players in the market. It reminds me of that quote from Shakespeare's Julius Caesar:

    The skies are painted with unnumbered sparks,
    They are all fire and every one doth shine,
    But there's but one in all doth hold his place
Okay dokey then.

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