Cisco Systems will make its long-anticipated entrance into the wireless mesh networking arena next week with a line of outdoor mesh products aimed at reducing the deployment costs involved in setting up indoor and outdoor networks, CRN has learned.
Solution providers have been expecting a wireless mesh product from Cisco since its March acquisition of Airespace, which was already developing its own wireless mesh offering.
Cisco is targeting the solution to enterprises seeking to move indoor Wi-Fi outside, as well as to municipalities that want to cover wide areas, and service providers looking to get into managed Wi-Fi services, according to internal Cisco documents viewed by CRN.
The Cisco solution is based on its proprietary Adaptive Wireless Path Protocol, a mesh routing technology designed to allow the wireless network to self-configure, self-optimize, resist interference and network downtime, and reduce network deployment costs. The protocol enables the mesh access points to automatically connect and authenticate to the Cisco WLAN controller and establish the most efficient network backhaul link, according to the documents.
There are two types of access points in the Cisco mesh solution: One is a gateway connected to the wired network, designed to be mounted on rooftops and towers. This rooftop access point uses 802.11a to link up to 32 Aironet 1500 lightweight mesh access points, designed to be mounted on street lights and utility poles, according to the documents.
The Aironet 1500 supports 2.4 GHz, 4.9 GHz and 5 GHz radios as well as 802.11b/g client access. Designed to withstand extreme temperatures, the Aironet 1500 can use AC/DC, power over Ethernet, and can tap into a streetlamp's power source, sources told CRN.
The Cisco Wireless Mesh solution is slated for general availability later this month. The Aironet 1500 is priced at $3,999. A kit with an Aironet 1500 access point and equipment for pole-top mounting will sell for $4,645, and a 1500 with a rooftop mounting kit will sell for $4,815, according to the documents.
Cisco did not respond to requests for comment by press time.
Solution providers said there is growing interest in wireless mesh networking, particularly among cities, towns and customers in campus environments like universities, warehouses and large office parks.
“Every town we’re talking to has some interest in it,” said Ethan Simmons, partner at NetTeks Technology Consultants, a Cisco solution provider in Boston.
In some cases, municipalities are looking at using homeland security funds to rollout mesh networks that tie police, firefighters, public works and other agencies together with wireless communications, he said.
Since all of the nodes in a wireless mesh network are connected to each other, the technology can also provide seamless mobility across the network and can improve reliability because there is no single point of failure, solution providers said.
“For large campuses, you can get higher data rates at relatively low price points,” said Pat Scheckel, Cisco practice director at Berbee Information Networks, Madison, Wisc.
While other players such BelAir, Firetide, Nortel Networks and Tropos are already playing in the wireless mesh market, it’s not too late for Cisco to jump in, solution providers said.
“You’ve got some early innovators, some early adopters, but it hasn’t reached anywhere near the majority yet,” said Chris Vincent, vice president of sales and marketing at Global Data Systems, a Cisco partner in Lafayette, La.
Phil Belanger, vice president of marketing for mesh vendor BelAir Networks, said that Cisco's entry to the mesh market is a natural extension of their product line. "This validates the market somewhat and shows that outdoor mesh infrastructure is an important segment," he said.
Belanger said Cisco's mesh product is similar to BelAir’s midrange product, the BelAir100, a two-radio, wireless internetworking node that can be deployed outdoors to provide Wi-Fi coverage in nearby buildings or over large outdoor areas.
Cisco’s entry will affect companies with only one product and one market more than companies like BelAir Networks, which has a differentiated product line and addresses three different levels of the mesh market, Belanger said.