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Cisco 802.11ac gigabit wireless LAN available early next year

Cisco 802.11ac technology will be available early next year as a radio module on the Aironet 3600 access point, making gigabit wireless LAN feasible.

Cisco Systems Inc., the world's largest vendor of enterprise wireless LAN infrastructure, will offer Gigabit Wi-Fi by early next year.

Cisco will make its entrée into gigabit wireless with an 802.11ac radio module for its high-end, 802.11n Aironet 3600 access point (AP). When Cisco introduced the modular 3600 AP at Cisco Live London in January, it said that the module slot could be used for supporting specialized applications. The first module it announced was a dedicated radio-frequency monitoring radio to work with Cisco's CleanAir technology. At the time Cisco hinted that the modular design of the 3600 AP would also provide an upgrade path to 802.11ac. Now it's official -- the release is scheduled for the first quarter of 2013.

"This is the only access point you can buy that gives you future-proofing with 11ac," said Chris Spain, Cisco vice president of marketing.

The 802.11ac standard could double the throughput of 802.11n, but in many cases it could require a redesign of existing wireless networks.

With pre-standard 802.11ac technology just six to 12 months away from mainstream market availability, it makes sense for Cisco to offer an upgrade path through the Aironet 3600, which starts at $1,495 -- a high price for an 802.11n AP that some say could become obsolete within a couple of years with faster technology emerging.

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On the other hand, the idea of 802.11n infrastructure becoming obsolete is also a little far-fetched for now. The theoretical maximum throughput of 802.11n (450 Mbps) will suit most enterprises just fine for a number of years.

High-definition video might push some enterprises' need for more throughput if wireless video actually takes off. Mobile device manufacturers, however, appear to be in no hurry to take advantage of 802.11ac. Apple Inc. still builds its iPhones with a 2.4 GHz-only Wi-Fi radio. Given that 802.11ac is purely a 5 GHz technology, the device market isn't exactly pushing the industry toward the next-generation technology. Manufacturers are more concerned with preserving battery life and keeping their devices small with 2.4 GHz radios.

On the other hand, battery life might be an argument for 802.11ac. The faster APs can move mobile devices on and off the air, the less power those devices will consume.

The eight spatial streams available in an 802.11ac AP eventually will enable multiuser MIMO (multiple input, multiple output), a technology that allows an AP to serve multiple client devices simultaneously on one AP. This advancement will reduce the time devices wait in an airtime queue, contributing further to battery life preservation. It also will mean more devices can gain network access simultaneously, which will be increasingly important as the numbers of mobile devices in enterprises continue to grow rapidly.

Cisco preparing Unified Access marketing campaign

On a slightly related note, Cisco will begin pushing a new marketing message over the next six to 12 months: Unified Access.

"We're driving this message of one network, whether you are wired and wirelessly connected," Spain said. "We want to give you a high-quality network with one policy, delivered via the ISE [Identity Services Engine] platform, and the ability to apply that policy based on user, device and location. The context is going to become richer, and that includes being able to look into the applications you are using. Then you will have one management view of this with Cisco Prime. Our goal is to simplify the operations of your network."

Cisco isn't sharing anything more concrete than these comments on its concept of Unified Access. Based on what has been shared, it sounds like the company is combining its Borderless Networks architecture with ISE and its well-received Cisco Prime network management platforms to create an uber-architecture. Cisco obviously has more in mind than a unified wired and wireless access layer. It's interested in simplifying network operations around network access for both fixed and mobile users. One could argue that Cisco's competitors are moving down a similar path, but we'll have to wait until Cisco starts announcing new products and features within Unified Access to fully grasp the scope of this campaign and whether it will be a new architectural roll-out or just some overblown "marketitecture."

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Shamus McGillicuddy, News Director.

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