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Cisco looks for WLAN boost

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Two successive quarters of flat sales of wireless LAN kit in the enterprise market have prompted Cisco Systems to look to the consumer and small office market for growth in the immediate future.

Misplaced security concerns and fears about confusion about standards have left enterprise sales flat while consumer sales are going gangbusters, according to Cisco. The company recently bought consumer networking specialist Linksys.

Speaking at a London press briefing today, Martin Cook, a solution consultant at Cisco who specialises in Wi-Fi technology, predicted that corporate growth will begin again - once standards were sorted and the enterprise market was educated on the benefits of further Wi-Fi investment. Cisco forecasts 30 per cent growth in Wi-Fi sales for its financial year beginning July 2003.

"The enterprise LAN market has plateaued but we expect it to take off again," Cook said. "Confusion about standards, potential security issues - which are resolved by the WPA security architecture - and the lack of management tools for large scale wireless LAN have held back growth in the enterprise."

Impotent

Cook's colleague Cisco consultant Paul King admitted that vendors collectively failed to get things right with WEP (the flawed first-generation Wi-Fi encryption protocol. But the market should move on from endless discussion of war driving, he argued.

According to King, the recent introduction of WPA leaves cracking tools such as Netstumbler and Airsnort impotent.

"I'm not saying WPA can't be attacked but we haven't seen any tools to do it," King commented. "WPA has taken security to a new level."

Rogue access points - set up by employees without approval or any security - are now the real security risk, not the admitted weakness of WEP, he says.

Nice Device

Cisco recently introduced a wireless IP phone (the Cisco 7920) that introduces proprietary QoS features to allow voice calls over 802.11b networks. But the company continues to fashion its mobile strategy around laptops as the main access device to wireless networks.

Cook notes that you don't have to change the application environment with wireless-enabled laptops - unlike PDAs, which have limited resources. He described the 7920 as a "nice device", which came across as damning with faint praise.

Cook described Intel as Cisco's "largest partner" in the WLAN market and sang the praise of Centrino, Intel's recently launched wireless-enabled mobile CPU.

Cisco is planning a major wireless LAN technology launch in early June. Details are under wraps but there were hints this morning that the launch will cover improving the manageability of wireless LANs.

Unlike WLAN switch appliance vendors such as Bluesocket, Cisco is against centralising the intelligence in wireless LAN networks.

"We believe in intelligence in the access point, managed and controlled from deeper in the network," Cook said. ®

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