Cisco aims for a go-anywhere router

The small, rugged ISR 819 router is designed for machine-to-machine networking

Cisco Systems made its fortune selling routers for the cores of enterprise and service-provider networks, but now the company is sending its technology farther from those cozy confines than ever before.

The Cisco Integrated Services Router 819 Machine-to-Machine Gateway, available immediately, is the smallest member of the ISR family of branch and remote-office routers and is designed to withstand outdoor environments with extreme temperatures. Target markets for the device include truck fleets, tollbooths, and ATMs (automated teller machines). The ISR 819 can also serve as a conventional router in a remote office, said Inbar Lasser-Raab, senior director of marketing for borderless networks.

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Unlike most routers, the 819 relies primarily on cellular data to reach the Internet. This opens up more possible uses for the router, including moving vehicles. The router, which weighs only 2.3 pounds (1 kilogram) and is thicker but smaller than a tablet, starts at $1,600. A slightly larger, hardened version, which is waterproof and has a temperature range from -13 degrees to 140 degrees Fahrenheit (-25 to 60 Celsius), starts at $2,300.

To ensure communication in isolated locations, the ISR 819 is equipped for 3G connectivity. It is available with both GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) and CDMA (Code-Division Multiple Access) technology and has room for two SIM (Subscriber Identity Module) cards, so users can set up service with two different mobile operators for redundancy. Cisco is also eyeing 4G capability next year, though most machine-to-machine (M2M) applications aren't bandwidth-hungry.

M2M (machine-to-machine) networking is expected to grow rapidly in the coming years. Functions such as meter-reading, asset tracking, and supply-level notifications can be automated through radios built into systems in the field, and wireless links can help to make it easier to network those devices.

As an example of how this type of device could work, a small wireless router in an ATM could send a signal when the amount of cash available in the machine fell to a certain level. It could immediately communicate over the cellular network to a similar router in an armored truck, and the driver of the truck would be given instructions to deliver more cash to that ATM.

Trucks, vending machines and other systems in the field have had wireless connectivity before, but Cisco calls the ISR 819 its first router for these types of applications that has all the features of the popular ISR line. For example, it includes stateful and application-inspection firewall capability, encryption for VPNs (virtual private networks), and features to optimize voice and video, according to Cisco.

There are 3G routers on the market from smaller vendors, but the fact that the 819 has the same software as Cisco's other popular ISR models is likely to make it more attractive to enterprises that have already invested in Cisco, said analyst Mike Spanbauer of Current Analysis. Cisco is more dominant in the router market for small and medium-sized companies than it is even in other areas of switching and routing, Spanbauer said.

"It's more about operational efficiency than necessarily bringing out a new service that didn't exist before," Spanbauer said.

But because so many features are built into it, the 819 may inspire new uses of remote routers in the future, he said. It will probably take less custom code and help from consultants to get a new use case off the ground, he said.

"Having the collapsed service offering on a single device does breed simplicity and encourages creativity in deployment," he said.

A renewed commitment by mobile operators could also help to boost the use of machine-to-machine applications, said IDC analyst Rohit Mehra. Some carriers have been slow to support machine-to-machine because they were focused on keeping up with consumers' use of mobile data on smartphones, he said. M2M will be an important source of market growth now that almost all consumers have cellphones.

Stephen Lawson covers mobile, storage and networking technologies for The IDG News Service. Follow Stephen on Twitter at @sdlawsonmedia. Stephen's email address is stephen_lawson@idg.com.

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