Cisco wireless network exec sort of speaks out

Galloway coy about 802.11n, touts WLAN integration and VoIP progress
  • John Cox (Network World)
  • 29 April, 2007 08:10

We reached out and touched Cisco's Brett Galloway on his cell phone this week while he was commuting to work. A founder of wireless LAN switch pioneer Airespace, he's now the vice president and general manager of Cisco's Wireless Networking Business Unit... considerably enriched as a result of Cisco's US$450 million acquisition of Airespace in 2005.

With about 20 minutes to spare, he talked, and didn't talk, about Cisco's wireless plans and priorities.

So, how about some hint, even in general terms, of your news scheduled for Interop Las Vegas [May 20-25]?

We don't pre-announce products. Watch this space.

Are you using any wireless technology right now?

I'm using Bluetooth on my cell phone [to connect to a headset].

Cisco promised to integrate wireless LAN with wired network infrastructure in the enterprise. Where are you with that?

The first phase was physical integration. We've taken the WLAN controller functions and put them in various form factors for convenient deployment: our appliances, but also a blade for the Catalyst 6500, a module for our Integrated Services Router and so on. That has been quite successful.

The Catalyst 6500 in particular is a nice form factor for very large-scale wireless deployments: you can put a lot of wireless LAN ports into that backplane.

That first phase was about physical integration. The second phase [starting in 2006] more about logical integration. It's in line with Cisco's strategy about the Services Oriented Network: to drive capabilities into the network that support and promote a richer set of capabilities for a broader set of business applications that are using the network.

The core [wireless] service today is laptop data access. We've optimized this application, making it easier to deploy, troubleshoot, manage and secure. On top of that we've identified what we call advanced mobility services: guest access, voice services, security, location services.

WLAN vendors have been talking about VOIP over WLAN as the next big thing for over two years. Where is it?

There are two models for wireless VOIP. First is our traditional market, with the 7920 series of WLAN phones. These are cordless IP phones, mainly in vertical applications [within the enterprise]. It's a good business: the uptake is strong and growing.

We've done a lot of work in wireless VOIP in terms of technology, for example, our Cisco Compatibility Extensions [CCX, which is code used by third-party chips and handheld devices to work smoothly with the Cisco WLAN infrastructure]. Our CCX Version 4 driver is about using pre-standard features or other technologies to make sure VOIP works.

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What's the second type of wireless VOIP?

Dual-mode: cellular phones that can also handle voice over Wi-Fi. That's still nascent. NTT DoCoMo has a service in Japan, launched with an NEC dual-mode phone. Airespace worked with them on that. The appeal is that you have the enterprise WLAN VOIP experience moved to your cell phone, and you can use your cellular net for extending coverage. We have a joint effort with Nokia on a dual-mode phone, but that is more focused in GSM networks in Europe.

There's a lot of enterprise interest in location services, such as asset tracking, using "active RFID" tags, often based on Wi-Fi. What kind of success have you had with the Cisco 2700 Series Wireless Location Appliance?

It's been quite successful. The basic application is an active RFID tag, with the appliance calculating its location based on data from the access points. This is a service on a converged network.

Location is an attribute that the network is uniquely designed to determine. There is a broad range of capabilities and opportunities that can use this if they know location. You can use it to augment information about a user's presence on the net, for example.

We do continue to look at technologies enhancing accuracy. And at ways to integrate location into a broader set of applications and to enhance the wireless location data with data from other sources.

What are your priorities for 2007?

Continuing to turn 'services' into 'solutions,' involving partners, hardware and software products.

The second focus is executing our client strategy. A lot of these [wireless] applications depend on having a great user experience on the client device. Our CCX program and partner relationships are key to making sure customers have the best devices suited to their needs.

Third, most of what customers actually buy are WLAN access points. We continue to raise the bar on these. Radio frequency performance and management is important, and difficult. We continue to make our access points easier to operate, better performing and easier to troubleshoot.

Will you have 802.11n products in 2007?

We don't make future product announcements. Watch this space.