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Cisco preps Wi-Fi tracking kit

Keeping tabs on workers and wheelchairs

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Cisco has announced a wireless tracking appliance designed to allow organisations to monitor the location of devices - or people - within a wireless local area network. The Cisco 2700 Series Wireless Location Appliance, scheduled to ship in June 2005, uses technology acquired when Cisco bought wireless switch start-up Airespace earlier this year.

The appliance relies on the radio frequency (RF) fingerprinting capabilities of the Cisco Wireless Control System (WCS) to triangulate the location of 802.11-enabled devices to within approximately 5m. It can track wireless laptops, PDAs, Voice over wireless LAN (VoWLAN) handsets, rogue access points and clients and devices equipped with active 802.11 Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags. The location of each device is graphically displayed on floor plans within the Cisco WCS.

The technology will initially only work using Airespace access points, but Cisco plans a software update to allow it to work with its complete range of wireless LAN kit. Cisco sees the technology as a platform for partners such as IBM Global Services and wireless asset tracking specialist PanGo Networks to develop location-based services akin to those under development by mobile operators but tailored towards the needs of enterprises such as hospitals and factories.

Phil Dean, manager of applications networking for Cisco EMEA, said applications could include asset tracking (locating of high-end medical equipment or wheelchairs within hospitals) or inventory management. Dean said research by US analysts suggests hospitals are unable to find between 10 and 15 per cent of the devices they own. "Devices are mostly misplaced rather than stolen," he said. More controversially the technology could be used to track key personnel. Also, when integrated with Voice over Wireless LAN systems, it could be used to create enhanced "panic response" services.

Staff would wear active RFID tags (made by firms like Aeroscout these devices contain their own power supply and cost a few dollars compared to a few cents for passive tags) on their uniform.

The Cisco 2700 Series Wireless Location Appliance will cost from $14,995. ®

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