Cisco switches on WLANs

Cisco Systems Inc. Wedneday added wireless LAN management capabilities to its wired switch line, a move the company said will allow companies to control their integrated wired and wireless networks from a single device -- something that should reduce the total cost of network ownership.

Cisco has targeted its new Wireless LAN Service Module (WLSM) for use in large enterprise environments, corporate and university campuses as well as hospitals, according to Bill Rossi, vice president of Cisco's WLAN division. He said the new WLSM is designed to support fast hand-off when users roam across WLAN subnetworks, with a 50-millisecond hand-off between subnets key to support of voice-over-Internet Protocol phone calls.

Enterprises can also use the WLSM to tap the capabilities of the 6500 Series switch to apply wireline services such as firewalls, intrusion detection and filtering to mobile users, the company said. The WLSM would also allow enterprises to segment users on a network by class and type, allowing them, for example, to provide guest access to the wireless LAN but be firewalled from other users.

Cisco said the WLSM, priced at US$18,000, will support up to 300 WLAN access points and plugs into its Catalyst 6500 Series Network switches. The base price includes a license for up to 150 access points. For $8,000, customers can purchase a Cisco IOS software license for up to 300 access points.

The base price of a Catalyst 6500 Series switch starts at $28,000.

Cisco access points list for just under $600 for the Model 1100, which operates under the 802.11b/g standard, and just under $900 for the model 1200, which operates under the 802.11a standard.

Rossi said street prices for the access points are in the $400 to $500 range, and he estimated the total cost of adding a WLSM module and access points to an enterprise 6500 Series switch at between $500 to $1,000 per access point. That would be roughly comparable to competitors like Airespace Inc. that sell stand-alone switch based wireless LAN systems.

Airespace sells its access points for $400, and users also need to buy switches, which run from $12,000 to $14,000. Jeff Aaron, senior manage of marketing at San Jose-based Airespace, said he found "nothing surprising" in the Cisco announcement, adding that Cisco was following the technology lead of his company.

Aaron acknowledged that a Cisco switch that supports WLANs could put competitive pressure on the market, but he said Airespace has OEM reseller agreements with three large network equipment vendors with their own hefty market clout: Alcatel, NEC Corp. and Nortel Networks Ltd.

Craig Mathias, an analyst at FarPoint Group in Ashland, Mass., said he believes the large enterprise market for wireless LANs is starting to heat up now that security concerns have been addressed and resolved.

John Hummel, CIO at Sutter Health in Sacramento, said he has already started testing the Cisco WLSM and plans to use it to manage Cisco WLAN networks in the 25 hospitals the company operates in California. He plans to tap its capability to manage VoIP calls when Sutter starts to testing hands-free VoIP communicators from Vocera Communications Inc. in Cupertino, Calif.

While at first glance the cost of the WLSM may seem high, Hummel said it is just an add-on to the company's extensive Cisco network infrastructure. Sutter is also engaged in a massive project to upgrade its hospitals, many of them old and insulated with asbestos, and Hummel said installing a WLAN is far less expensive than the cost of the asbestos mitigation that would be needed if he had to install wired networks.

The Nasdaq Stock Market in New York has decided to use the WLSM to simplify the operation of its wireless network and support VoIP, Steve Randich, Nasdaq's CIO said in a statement. Nasdaq plans to use the WLSM to both aggregate wireless traffic as well as segment users, Randich said.

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