Cisco tries its hand at wireless mesh networking

Cisco Systems Inc. today entered the burgeoning field of wireless mesh networking providers angling for municipal WiFi projects. The new line of Cisco Aironet 1500 outdoor access points (APs) use the company's own Adaptive Wireless Path Protocol to intelligently route wireless LAN traffic.

"This is our own outdoor mesh protocol," Ben Gibson, Cisco's director of wireless/mobility marketing, said prior to the product's launch. "It's not solely based on wireline protocols."

Gibson explained that other mesh protocols quickly divert data traffic to alternate access points when they encounter a bottleneck.

"Our protocol doesn't give up as quickly on a path," Gibson said. "Some people might say that adds latency, but it's actually less latency than having to find a different path through the network."

Like other outdoor APs, the Aironet 1500 is designed to be mounted on lampposts and similar infrastructure. It has two radios, with one dedicated communication between APs. According to the company, dual radios can make it easier for customers, especially municipal governments, to segment the network for different uses, such as emergency and non-emergency services, as well as public access.

Cisco's mesh technology is currently deployed in Dayton, Ohio, and Lebanon, Ore.

In addition, Cisco rolled out a series of wireless controllers for integration with its Catalyst 6500 Series and Integrated Services Router products. The Cisco Wireless Service Module slips into free slots in Catalyst 6500 and IRS systems and allows administrators to manage wireless access points. Each Catalyst 6500 module supports 300 APs, Gibson said. Catalyst 6500 users can typically fit five controllers into a 6500 for managing large-scale wireless networks. The ISR module supports six APs.

Gibson said the module approach was aimed at customers who didn't want to build separate, overlaid wireless networks, but instead wanted an integrated wired/wireless infrastructure. For government agencies that prefer to build entirely separate wireless networks in order to maximize security and minimize latency, Cisco sells standalone wireless controllers.

The latest products are among the fruits of Cisco's March 2005 acquisition of Airespace Inc. Gibson said the mesh components are available now, while the wireless controllers will be out by the end of the year.

Brad Grimes is an assistant managing editor of Washington Technology's sister publication, Government Computer News.

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