Cisco WLAN products attack access point problems

Version 2.5 of Cisco’s Wireless LAN Solution Engine (WLSE), which was announced Monday, will make it easier for users to build and manage 802.11 local-area networks, but one analyst says it doesn’t have a lot of features that aren’t already available

from other vendors.

“”I’ve been waiting for Cisco to come up with this,”” said Michael Disabato, a senior analyst with the Burton Group, a Midvale, Utah-based research and consulting firm. “”I think radio-frequency management is a key need for all wireless LAN installations that have more than one access point. The bigger you get, the more you’re going to need this.””

Disabato added other vendors, such as Wavelink, ReefEdge and Bluesocket, have have had management capabilities in their products for some time.

Kirkland, Wash.-based Wavelink Corp.’s Mobile Manager lets IT staff configure and manage wireless LANs using equipment from different vendors. ReefEdge Inc. of Fort Lee, N.J. recently announced its Wireless Services Fabric family of products, which are also designed to make it easier to install, manage and secure wireless LANs.

Cisco Systems Inc.’s Structured Wireless-Aware Network, which was unveiled Monday, is designed to address problems common to wireless LANs with more than one access point. The San Jose, Calif.-based manufacturer announced versions 2.0 and 2.5 of its WLSE appliance. WLSE 2.0, which is scheduled for release next month at US$8,495, is designed to support up to 2,500 wireless LAN access points.

WLSE 2.5 is scheduled for release during the fourth quarter of this year.

Disabato said version 2.0 is “”nice,”” but added, “”What I’m really interested in is the features that are coming out in 2.5.””

Version 2.5 will include technology capable of detecting rogue access points (installed by users without the authorization of IT departments) and devices (such as 2.4 GHz phones) that could interfere with wireless LANs. It will also include site survey tools designed to help IT staff determine where access points should be located.

“”A number of startups have come into the market, all touting rogue access point detection, centralized configuration and a number of other pieces of functionality that make a lot of sense for an enterprise deployment,”” said Abner Germanow, wireless LAN research manager for Framingham, Mass.-based IDC. “”Cisco had to provide an answer to the marketplace in terms of what they were going to deliver to help people manage large-scale wireless LAN deployment.””

Germanow added the wireless LAN market has changed significantly. Retail and warehouse operations were among the main buyers 18 months ago, but now, companies in all industries are buying products.

“”What Cisco has had to do is take a hard look at how their customers were using their products,”” Germanow said. “”It’s becoming a business critical network that needs a more formal management scheme than they had before.””

Disabato said the site survey feature of WLSE 2.5 will be a boon to IT staff who can take electronic versions of building plans (using software like AutoCAD) to plot locations where users need wireless access.

The work involved in proper site surveys has been a “”significant barrier”” to wireless LAN deployment, said Shripati Acharya, product line manager for Cisco’s wireless networking business unit. Acharya said customers told Cisco they want products that will automate many labour-intenstive management tasks and make it easier to detect rogue access points.

Cisco is releasing IOS Software 12.2 for its Aironet 1100 and 1200 Series access points this month. With WLSE 2.0, IOS 12.2 will support the new WiFi Protected Access (WPA) security standard, which is designed to be more secure than the wired equivalent privacy (WEP) security standard.

The manufacturer also announced the Aironet 1400 Series Wireless Bridge, an outdoor product designed to connect several wireless networks within a metropolitan area. Cisco says the Aironet 1400 provides transfer rates of 54 Mbps. The maximum range is about 12 km for point-to-multipoint implementations and about 3 km for point-to-point installations.


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