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Enterprise WLANs: Cisco Delivers the Goods

Cisco's share of the enterprise WLAN market rose from 26 percent in early 2002 to 45 percent today, according to a recent report from Synergy Research Group. That may not add up to total dominance, but many people have come to view this as a one-vendor market. The gorilla of IOS is so well-positioned that it's almost impossible for Cisco not to succeed.

Sure, Cisco is feeling some pressure from more nimble WLAN start-ups, including Airespace, Aruba Wireless Networks and Trapeze Networks. But history teaches us that Cisco doesn't need superior products--or even competitive pricing--to build market dominance. All Cisco needs is to pass the "good enough" test today and promise to get better in the future.

Cisco's recent WLAN product launch illustrates this point. It was late to market in releasing a multimode "abg" client adapter and 11g support on its enterprise access points. But the company's latest management offering, the Wireless LAN Solution Engine, version 2.5, provides enough new functionality to keep customers loyal and probably attract some new business.

Slap the WLSE appliance on your network, and you can manage faults and configuration for up to 2,500 APs. Cisco's new rogue-detection system takes advantage of both APs and clients for monitoring. Using clients as scanners is a unique and intriguing approach, but what happens when users take clients home at night? The AP-based monitoring leverages the intelligence built into Cisco APs, but it requires that all your APs run IOS--most equipment runs VXWorks--and it works only with 802.11b. You don't suppose someone might install a rogue AP running 802.11a to get around this, do you?

Cisco's assisted site survey technology looks more promising. Unlike systems that use advanced RF modeling, Cisco's approach doesn't abandon the conventional physical site survey, but rather extends it through automated tools. This looks like a pragmatic solution that will save time and improve system designs.