Cisco's Virtual WiFi Offer

The battle for the hearts and minds of 802.11 purchasers is hotting up. Weeks after Symbol Technologies Inc. (NYSE: SBL) targeted Cisco Systems Inc.'s (Nasdaq: CSCO) customer base with its low-cost WLAN box (see Symbol's Cisco Killer?), Cisco has struck back with the launch of a new, cheap ($599) 802.11b access point that allows up to 16 virtual LANs from one hotspot (see Cisco Intros WLAN AP). In addition, Cisco is now selling its 802.11a access point in six European countries.

The main improvement that Cisco's new Aironet 1100 802.11b product brings to access-point owners, especially those that are independent of a service provider, is that it allows virtual LANs to be managed through a single access point.

"As well as being cheaper, this product allows the partitioning of a hotspot to allow different authentication schemes to use the same access point," says Jon Hindle, strategic technology manager of mobile networking at Cisco in the U.K. "This means an independent access-point owner, say at an airport, can have multiple service providers offering their services using the same hotspots without interference. From what we are seeing in the market, the way forward is to allow service providers to leverage other people's access points, and this is exactly what this product allows."

With increasing pressure from the likes of Symbol, Cisco needs to keep on the move if it is to hold on to its position at the top of the WiFi vendor table (see Report: WiFi Kit Market Grows 8%).

Cisco is very aware that one way of hanging on to customers is through the compatibility of the software that runs various access systems. With the 1100 using Cisco's IOS software that manages a whole range of wired and wireless switches and routers, the vendor is banking on attracting companies whose IT workforces are already familiar with the system.

"If you're trained on Cisco routers and switches then this makes it easier," says Hindle. What if a company wants to deploy a mix of equipment and not rely on one provider? "Mixing and matching network systems is a problem. Whenever you mix products it causes headaches." That's headaches for the customer or integrator, of course. "If you have one supplier, then any problems are solved by that supplier -- they deal with the headaches then."

Hindle adds, though, that the access point should not have a problem working with routers provided by other manufacturers.

Cisco is also now shipping its 802.11a product, the Aironet 1200 access point, to six European countries -- Belgium, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, and the U.K. The product was launched in April this year. "The national regulators have cleared the use of a narrow band of spectrum for 802.11a kit. This means operators as well as enterprises can deliver high-speed data services, such as good quality streaming video, now."

— Ray Le Maistre, European Editor, Unstrung
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