CTIA - Cisco adds 3G to branch router

Cisco is set to introduce on Tuesday a 3G module for its ISR (Integrated Services Router) line of branch and small-business routers

3G (third-generation) wireless will grow up at the CTIA Wireless show in Orlando this week, finding its place in Cisco Systems business routers.

The blue-chip networking vendor is set to introduce on Tuesday a 3G module for its ISR (Integrated Services Router) line of branch and small-business routers. The 3G Wireless WAN (wide-area network) High-speed Interface Card will provide a link to the Internet over the EV-DO (Evolution-Data Optimized) or HSDPA (High-Speed Downlink Packet Access) networks of mobile operators that are working with Cisco, said Inbar Lasser-Raab, a director of marketing for network systems at Cisco.

Most customers are likely to use 3G only as a backup for when their main Internet connections go down, according to Lasser-Raab. But in becoming one of a variety of interfaces on the popular router, a set of technologies usually associated with fun phone features for consumers and on-the-road connectivity for travelling employees is making a leap. 3G has grown in both speed and coverage area over the past few years, to where Cisco says it is price-competitive with DSL (digital subscriber line) and cable modem access and faster than ISDN (Integrated Services Digital Network), which is commonly used for backup in Europe. As faster wireless data technologies such as WiMax appear, Cisco plans to introduce new models.

Initially, customers can use the module on the Verizon Wireless, Sprint Nextel and AT&T Cingular networks in the U.S., as well as the Telefonica Moviles network in Europe.

The ISR is a modular router designed to bring capabilities including security, wireless LAN switching and VOIP (voice over Internet Protocol) into branch offices, retail stores and small and medium-size businesses.

There is one caveat: VOIP calls to the outside world may not work, despite VOIP being a major selling point of the ISR. The module doesn't officially support VOIP, which requires low delay, and mobile operators aren't guaranteeing call quality, Lasser-Raab said.

As a backup, 3G could be more economical than some alternatives, according to analyst Michael Brandenburg at Current Analysis Inc. A large enterprise may get a discount on the connection if it has a big account with the carrier, he pointed out. However, if VOIP is required, they might treat it as a secondary backup, he said.

No other router company is offering such a module, according to Yankee Group Inc. analyst Zeus Kerravala. A wired backup such as ISDN is likely to go down along with the main connection anyway, he said.

"Being able to do it over another medium [airwaves] makes it a perfect backup technology for traditional leased-line access," Kerravala said.

The module is available in different models for HSDPA and EV-DO, with backward compatibility to slower technologies. It will be available in June through Cisco channel partners to customers who meet certain criteria, such as having adequate cellular coverage. U.S. list price will be US$850.

Also on Tuesday, Cisco is introducing a wireless LAN controller module for the ISR that can support eight or 12 access points, up from the current maximum of six. The new module will ship in May, priced at US$4,750 for eight access points and US$6,500 for 12.

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