Cisco Systems has introduced a new wireless LAN access point (AP) that for the first time incorporates the Internetwork Operating System (IOS), used in the company's routers, switches and other wired network equipment, into a wireless product.
Analysts said the introduction of the new Cisco product, priced at $599 (£382), sets the stage for a battle between Cisco and Symbol Technologies, which last month introduced a decentralised, switch-managed WLAN architecture.
Craig Mathias, an analyst at Farpoint Group, said the battle between Symbol, Cisco and other WLAN suppliers for market share "could get nasty, because this is the only bright spot in the networking market".
Ron Seide, product line manager at Cisco, said integrating the IOS into the new 1100 Series AP follows the company's philosophy of "pushing intelligence to the edge of the network".
The IOS will allow users to support wired network features such as virtual LANs with ease. For example, users will be able to operate LANs with different levels of security over the same WLAN circuit and employ quality-of-service controls that allow voice-over-IP traffic to take precedence over data traffic.
The 1100 Series will initially operate under the 802.11b, or Wi-Fi, standard, which provides 11Mbps throughput in the 2.4GHz unlicensed frequency band. Seide said the new WLAN AP could be upgraded to 802.11g, which offers 54Mbps throughput in the same band.
Cisco has taken a "fundamentally different" approach to Symbol with its new WLAN products, said Seide. The new WLAN architecture Symbol introduced last month, called Mobius, is designed around "dumb", inexpensive access ports with all of the intelligence housed in a central switch. The product sells for $279.
Seide said the Symbol approach requires users to buy and install the expensive controller box as well as the access ports before they can even begin to enjoy the benefits of WLANs, whereas the 1100 Series requires only a network connection to work out of the box. The 1100 Series offers more flexibility at a lower cost than the Symbol product, he added.
Ray Martino, a Symbol vice-president, agreed with Seide that intelligence belongs at the edge of the network, but added, "I believe the edge is the wiring closet." Taking Cisco's logic into the wired world "would mean installing Ethernet controllers on floorboards," he noted.
Mathias said he believes that the Symbol approach offers users more flexibility and could lead to a lower total cost of ownership. He predicted that other WLAN vendors would soon begin to imitate the Symbol Mobius architecture.