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Cisco goes next generation with 802.11n

Cisco today released 802.11n WLAN gear, as wireless experts predict the technology will soon kill the need for wired Ethernet LAN access.

Cisco today released 802.11n-supporting products that the network giant says will help companies ease into a next-generation wireless LAN deployment and capitalize on the further range and higher throughput 802.11n brings to Wi-Fi.

According to Ben Gibson, Cisco's director of mobility solutions, the addition of a modular 802.11n access point, the Aironet 1250 Series, a 48 Gbps scalable Catalyst 6500-based WLAN controller system, and wired and wireless services with the Unified Wireless Network Release 4.2 comes at a time when the market is accelerating adoption of Wi-Fi technology and also looking to move forward with 802.11n, the latest wireless LAN standard.

Cisco also announced that it will deliver, via its Catalyst switching family, the ability to fully power the dual-radio Aironet 1250 Series from a single Ethernet port.

"The market and the quantity and diversity of wireless devices is increasing," Gibson said, noting that more companies are deploying wireless phones, printers, laptops and other industry-specific equipment, such as medical devices. That proliferation, he said, is fueling a "sharp increase in Wi-Fi-enabled devices."

Gibson added that while devices are coming in droves, many networks aren't ready to adequately support them. 802.11n, he said, answers the scale and performance problems many companies are currently struggling with as they outgrow their current wireless LAN deployments.

The Aironet 1250 Series access point is the first Wi-Fi-certified 802.11n draft 2.0 access point. 802.11n, which is still awaiting ratification, is said to boost range and throughput of wireless networks through its use of multiple-in, multiple-out (MIMO) technology.

Along with the new 802.11n access point, Cisco today also announced other next-generation wireless products to support 802.11n, including:

  • Wireless LAN controller capacity and integrated network services, designed to support gradual or large-scale 802.11n deployments. The Cisco Wireless Service Module (WiSM) for the Catalyst 6500 lets customers add controller capacity as needed for flexible and customized deployments. Wireless users can also leverage the integrated wired and wireless security, high availability and application intelligence.
  • Cisco Unified Wireless Network 4.2, which enhances mobility services to include wireless mesh, access point monitoring and migration tools, and unified wired and wireless guest access. The services also incorporate voice-ready wireless enhancements, survivable remote access points, and integrated spectrum analysis.
  • Improved client capabilities, including Cisco's Secure Services Client 5.0, which focus on simplified enterprise provisioning of a single client security and management framework. Version 5.0 uses an improved interface for "2 Click Connect" capabilities.

Gibson said that Cisco's latest 802.11n releases are also backward compatible with older technologies like 802.11a/b/g and won't require a redesign of the network infrastructure.

Higher education is likely to be the first to pick up on 802.11n technology, he added. Duke University is currently using 802.11n and the Cisco Aironet 1250 Series access point.

According to Duke's CIO Tracy Futhey, Cisco and Duke engineers have been working together to configure the wireless network in a residence hall to ensure proper interoperability, performance and design.

"Universities provide a unique role as a microcosm for the broader security – a realistic yet controlled testing ground," Futhey said. "We have people who work here, live here, play here and visit here. They use the Duke wireless network for diverse applications such as video, streaming media and other data-intensive technologies. Our early experience with Cisco's 802.11n technology has been that it can reliably deliver the wireless bandwidth our highly mobile population requires."

Burton Group senior analyst Paul DeBeasi, who recently published a report boldly titled "802.11n: The End of Ethernet?" predicts that 802.11n technology will start eroding the wired Ethernet market within the next two to three years. In his report, DeBeasi said 802.11n marks the beginning of a rapid market shift away from LAN access deployments using traditional wireless Ethernet.

"When you look at what .11n is providing now and where it's going over the next two to three years," DeBeasi said, "it's going to solve most of the problems and nightmares [associated with wireless deployments like security, authentication, privacy, data integrity, intrusion detection and others]." Overall, he said, 802.11n will create a more stable wireless infrastructure.

"Stability was an issue," he said. "But when you look at MIMO, it's going to go a long way to provide better stability."

DeBeasi is quick to point out, however, that despite his report's bold title, companies are not going to rip out all of their wires and eliminate Ethernet altogether. 802.11n will erode Ethernet's hold for access. Switch trunks and data center networks will still require wired Ethernet for several years.

For more on 802.11n
Read why 802.11n may require unexpected upgrades

Find out why you should research before deploying 802.11n
Cisco's approach with its recent 802.11n announcements will give companies the sense that "it's safe to go into the water" with 802.11n, DeBeasi said. The idea that 802.11n won't be deployed until it's fully ratified is no longer valid.

"Having Cisco enter the market with this draft product legitimizes it," he said. "It enables large enterprises to make strategic plans for .11n."

According to DeBeasi, the release of draft 802.11n gear gives companies time to evaluate their wireless plans and paint a strategic picture. He said he advises companies looking at new wireless deployments now to plan for 802.11n, as it begins to take hold of the market over the next couple of years.

He said companies should consider 802.11n as a substitute for wired Ethernet when the number of laptop users grows; when the enterprise deploys mobile applications; when Fast Ethernet throughput is good enough; when the enterprise deploys VoIP; when moves, adds and changes become frequent; when the risk of deliberate denial of service attacks is low to moderate; and when Ethernet cable installation becomes difficult.

"One can analyze the difference between 802.11n and Ethernet with regard to performance, security, manageability, cost and impact on staff," DeBeasi wrote. "However, the definitive and unalterable competitive advantage that 802.11n has over Ethernet is pervasive mobility."

Companies upgrading their wireless infrastructure now should strongly consider .11n before moving forward in order to ensure that they can support the latest wireless technology, DeBeasi said. "You don't want to paint yourself into a corner."

"802.11n will put pervasive mobility on the fast track," he said, "so IT professionals should start thinking now about how they will deploy, maintain and benefit from an all-wireless LAN."

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