Yankee Group VP warns we’re at least five years away from wireless roaming

Cisco executives’ vision of the future is one where mobile users will be able to roam easily between public and private wireless networks, but some analysts warn this vision is far from reality.

At last month’s Worldwide Analyst Conference in Santa Clara, Calif., mobile computing experts from

Cisco Systems Inc. said users will soon be able to move from wireless local-area networks, based on standards such as IEEE 802.11, to wide-area services such as 1XRTT or general packet radio services (GPRS), that wireless carriers overlay on to their cellphone networks.

“”802.11 will integrate into the wide-area network, the GPRS, the 1XRTT,”” said Mike DeBlauw, Cisco’s director of engineering for public access. “”In a year to two years, we will have a lot better integrated story from our operators that will integrate 802.11 with these wide-area networks.””

DeBlauw, who made his comments during a panel discussion titled “”The Wireless and Mobility Landscape,”” said operators will get a “”tremendous amount of uptake”” in business as a result of this integration.

Ann Sun, Cisco’s director of product and technology marketing for mobility, said users don’t care what type of wireless network they’re accessing, as long as they can stay connected.

“”If we’re in the enterprise and we’re moving into the public (network), we don’t need to know that we’re moving between service providers or between an enterprise and service provider location,”” she said. “”That’s completely transparent to us.””

But don’t hold your breath waiting for this integration to happen, suggests one analyst who attended the conference.

“”I think it will eventually happen, but I think we’re further away than people think,”” said Zeus Kerravala, vice-president of enterprise infrastructure at The Yankee Group, a Boston-based research firm.

Kerravala said in an interview he believes it will be at least five years before this type of roaming is widely available.

“”The concept of being in the office, grabbing my laptop, going to my car and still being connected — I think we’re at least five years away from that.””

Some of the major issues include infrastructure, billing and the fact that 802.11, which operates in the 2.4GHz frequency range, is unlicenced.

“”Whoever puts up the bigger antenna wins,”” Kerravala said.

Overall, Kerravala praised Cisco CEO John Chambers for guiding the company during its transition from a hardware vendor to a “”business processes company.””

He added Cisco is starting to force a change in the way security products are sold.

“”Firewall to Cisco is not a product anymore,”” he said. “”It’s a feature. (Virtual private networking) isn’t a product anymore. It’s a feature. They’ve taken all of these standard network security things and made them features inside their traditional network products … the day of the stand-alone security appliance is over.””

Although the manufacturer does sell separate security appliances, the same features are available as software on routers and as components of switches, said Charlie Giancarlo, Cisco’s vice-president and general manager of switching, voice and storage.

Cisco’s security strategy is that of a “”self-defending network,”” in which different types of products work together to react to threats. Giancarlo said, adding organizations need several layers of security to protect themselves.

“”At some point in time, a virus or a worm is going to get through a firewall.””

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