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Cisco takes dual route to WLAN market

Wireless Access Point supports 802.11b, 802.11a

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Cisco yesterday launched a wireless access point which supports simultaneous operation of both 802.11b and high-speed 802.11a wireless LANs.

The Cisco Aironet 1200 Series Access Point is positioned as offering investment protection by giving a ready migration path from 11Mbps 802.11b to networks using either 802.11a or the emerging 802.11g standards, which have a theoretical throughput of 54Mbps.

The device, which begins shipping this month, comes with an 802.11b radio module and provides an additional slot for an 802.11a module or 802.11g module, when those technologies become available to customers. Upgrades to high-speed networks can be carried out by customers in the field - an important factor for Cisco customers such as BT, which plans to roll out a wireless hot spots throughout the UK using Cisco's technology.

With a 200 MHz Power PC processor and expanded memory capacity, the Cisco Aironet 1200 Series supports the operation of two 54 Mbps radios simultaneously and a 10/100 Ethernet interface. It can be upgraded to take advantage of more robust security standards, when these become available.

Radio modules for 802.11a for the Aironet 1200 will become available in the US and Asia in August, but Cisco is holding off their availability in Europe pending regulatory approval. Concerns expressed by satellite and radar operators have delayed full approval of 5GHz 802.11b kit from ETSI, the European regulatory agency. However by modifying kit so that four base stations are used in a given area - instead of the eight available to US users - vendors have received permission to ship 802.11a kit in Britain and The Netherlands from July.

Further modifications in the technology expected to satisfy ETSI's concerns and full approval is expected by the end of the year.

This is happening earlier than expected but Cisco is confident that there's plenty of life in 802.11b kit yet.

Martin Cook, a business development consultant at Cisco, said vendors are embedding 802.11b technology in laptops and prices are coming down. This means that 802.11a shipments are not expected to exceed those of 802.11b until 2003/4.

To be or not to 802.11b

Which standard will supersede 802.11b remains a hot topic.

The 802.11g standard works in the existing 2.4GHz spectrum, but Intel (which will support the technology) believes a specification won't come out until Q1 2003 and 802.11g products won't be delivered till the middle of next year.

By that time 802.11a will be the incumbent, Intel believes.

Cisco is less bullish. In February the company suggested that regulatory issues would make 802.11g a more straightforward migration path for Europeans. But these issues have been resolved more quickly than expected. Even so, Cisco still believes that 802.11a or 802.11g should be a matter of customer choice.

The dual-band features of the Aironet 1200 enable that choice, it says.

Although Cisco is a strong player in wireless networking, it doesn't have anything like the dominance in the segment it enjoys in LAN switching or routing.

Intel has already come out with a dual band access point and other leading manufacturers in the field, such as Agere, can be expected to follow suit.

Ian Phillips, a product marketing manager for Cisco, said that its devices offered higher throughput over longer distances (remember 11 and 54Mbps are theoretical maximums). Perhaps the most important factor which sets Cisco apart, however, is that its boxes support in-line power over Ethernet connections.

The basic Cisco Aironet 1200 Series Access Point is $999. The dual-band version, with both 802.11b and 802.11a radios, has a list price of $1499. The 802.11a client radio card costs $229. ®

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