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Wi-Fi Alliance ‘caught with pants down’ says chip maker

Trojan Horse revisited

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The Register's Wireless LAN Channel

Almost all the people who make Wi-Fi silicon chips have signed up to Cisco's new wireless networking standards, CCX - but not all of them have done so willingly. We interviewed one reluctant recruit, who thinks this is the biggest threat faced by the Wi-Fi Alliance so far.

Our source is a senior executive in a semiconductor company, and made it a condition of talking to NewsWireless.net that we said nothing to reveal either his identity, nor that of the corporation he works for.

"This is Cisco's way to control the Wi-Fi standard," he said bluntly. "They have declared that their position is to give these extensions away to the people who make clients for wireless. But it's not just a simple case of them giving it to anybody who wants it."

The question which surprised this executive was that none of Cisco's rivals seem, yet, to have a strategy to respond. "We don't know whether we could choose, for example, to do a deal with Proxim, who look to be about to feel the impact before anybody else, because Proxim doesn't seem to have analysed it."

He said that it was clear that Cisco was wanting to pull out of the unprofitable client business. "Prices for Wi-Fi cards and circuits have collapsed - you can buy a PCMCIA card for a laptop for $50 in a computer store. If you want Cisco's LEAP (Lightweight Extensible Authentication Protocol) you have to spend $200 on a Cisco Aironet card."

Cisco, he said, would very much like to stop having to sell cards; and getting all the other card makers to include their client technology would mean they could concentrate on selling the infrastructure. "They'd know that everybody had compatible clients," he pointed out.

But Cisco's rival AP builders seem not to know what they can and can't do, he said. "They've been caught with their pants down, frankly. My expectation is I'll only be able to provide CCX to people who have some relationship with Cisco. So if you buy a PC card with one of my chips in it, it will have a lot of the CCX stuff in firmware - and yes, you do have APs which work by taking a plug-in PC card. But that won't give them CCX."

Technically, most of the extensions will be in the card firmware. "But there's going to be crucial other pieces of the technology which only exist inside the infrastructure." To use them, you'd need a Cisco switch and access point.

"They're using their muscle in order to make it very clear to the user that Cisco gives you more. But once you start using that extra, you can't use other - probably much cheaper - infrastructure components. LEAP is their proprietary authentication, and that's part of CCX - so if I build a client card or access point today, I cannot support LEAP."

So definitely, it is a Trojan horse, he said. ®

© Newswireless.Net, 2003

The Register's Wireless LAN Channel

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