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'Fourth Generation'?! Cisco responds to Wi-Fi whippersnappers

A few hours after posting my story on Extricom’s and Meru’s approaches to wireless networking, I got an e-mail from Cisco expressing their disappointment in not getting to tell their “side of the story” on fourth generation wireless. Setting aside the fact that I e-mailed them for comment the morning before, I was curious about their take. Michael King, a research director with Gartner, had speculated that Extricom or Meru might be ripe for a Cisco acquisition within the next several years.

That possibility sounded pretty remote when I spoke with Cisco this afternoon. Ben Gibson, senior director of mobility solutions marketing for Cisco, said the company views channel layering/blanketing solutions (like Meru and Extricom use) as different, but not necessarily in a good way. He said these implementations, while they may or may not explicitly break standards, break the standards spirit and this has been shown, he said, to cause problems for other nearby networks. “I think it also introduces a lot of questions about such an approach to really scale properly,” he said. Cisco has been touting their Duke case study as the world’s largest .11n network, so it would seem they have scale down pretty well.

Cisco also wasn’t too happy with the designation of “fourth generation.” Gibson said most of the problems these systems solve have already been solved better by traditional players (namely Cisco). Sub-50 ms hand offs. Seamless VoIP calling. Ubiquitous, consistent wireless access no matter where you are or or how the wind is blowing. All with what they tout as better, more complete security.

“The next generation to me is, how do you turn it from a wireless network to a true mobility application network?” Gibson said. He said it was Cisco, not Meru/Extricom, who was paving the way for this fourth generation with integrated device chips that can boost wireless performance, with VoIP handsets, with location-aware applications.

So no love lost between Cisco and the new(er) kids on the block, but then again both Extricom and Meru didn’t particularly seem to enjoy being lumped together when I talked to them. It’s a pretty cut-throat industry, not the least because it appears primed to get much bigger over the next few years as enterprises start to look at the real possibility of going almost 100% wireless, meaning huge opportunities for the winners.

Enjoy watching the back and forth? Cisco’s mobility blog has posts that explain why they’re better than Aruba and, more amusingly, draw networking lessons from pre-marital classes. I couldn’t find blogs for any of the other wireless vendors.

As for me, I honestly couldn’t say who has the best approach, but feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments or, if you’ve had first-hand experience with some of the platforms, e-mail me at Who knows, maybe there will even be a CCNA Video Mentor in it for you if you’re interviewed.

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