Cisco Systems expects its purchase of Airespace to open doors for channel partners that haven't been able to set up wireless LANs on their own.
Some in the industry say the impact may not be as dramatic as that. But the Airespace technology should make life easier for Cisco's many value-added resellers and system integrators.
The Airespace acquisition, which closed in March, brought Cisco a wireless LAN switch that centralizes capabilities such as security and lets access points become simpler "lightweight" devices. Cisco officials said the wireless switch and Airespace's software also can simplify wireless LAN setup, a job that they said currently often forces even large system integrators to hire outside help.
Determining how many access points are needed at a particular site, where they should be installed and what channel and power level each should use is a job that requires special radio-frequency expertise, said Dave Leonard, vice president and general manager of Cisco's wireless networking business unit. For example, network designers have to know how far an access point's signal will reach, taking into consideration different types of walls and features in a building. Securing traditional access points can also be complicated due to the need to have each one support the same standards and smoothly hand off an authenticated user to the next access point, Leonard said.
Most resellers don't have that expertise, and training can be expensive in terms of fees and employee time, so many have had to hire others to do that work, he said.
With the Airespace technology, setting up a wireless LAN requires much less expertise, Leonard said. Airespace software can analyze a simple floorplan of a site and recommend where to place access points. After the network is in place, it can continuously monitor and adjust transmission power, channel assignments, traffic load allocation and coverage holes, said Alan Cohen, senior director of product management. Likewise, security is handled centrally, so it's not necessary to configure and maintain a lot of settings on each access point.
With those capabilities, channel partners need a lot less expertise to sell and set up wireless LANs, Leonard said. That new freedom comes just as demand for wireless LANs starts to extend beyond vertical industries such as medical care and retail to general enterprises, according to Cisco.
NetXperts Inc., a Cisco channel partner that provides wired and wireless networks to enterprises nationwide, has done a lot of its installations in hospitals but is seeing growing interest from general enterprises, said Tom Hagin, vice president of sales.
The San Ramon, California, system integrator is one of the few equipped to assess a customer's site for optimal design of a wireless LAN, Hagin said. The 25-person company has been hired by major system integrators to perform wireless assessments, he said.
To set up an effective wireless LAN, an integrator needs to look at what kinds of devices employees will be using, where they are likely to use them and what applications they will try to use, Hagin said. An on-site radio propagation test is needed in most cases -- even in a conventional office, if there are going to be heavy demands, such as employees with wireless LAN phones, he said.