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Cisco’s Roller Coaster July

Cisco has had some ups and downs this month.

It seems that, so far, July 2012 has been a bit of a microcosm of what Cisco has been like the past few years. It has taken huge leaps forward with technology and the potential doors it can open for users, but taken some steps backward in the handling of its business practices.

It’s frustrating and unnerving to see the networking giant simultaneously excite and then annoy consumers. Let’s take a look at a few highlights of Cisco’s month thus far:

July 6 – Sorry about that whole router uproar.

Around the end of June, Cisco automatically updated the Linksys EA3500 and EA4500 routers’ firmwares and put them on a cloud-based administration service. No one can speak for all users, but many people were irked by these changes. The problem for some was that the new firmware surprised them and “presented a login screen for the Cisco Connect Cloud instead of the LAN-based router management interface that had come up previously.” That had to be quite an unexpected shock for many users. One commenter on Cisco’s Home Community Forum even stated, “I do not want this. A cloud interface is not what everyone wants. Stop trying to make decisions as a corporation and what you think the people need.”

But that wasn’t where the problem ended. Some folks were also alarmed by the Cisco Connect Cloud privacy policy. Enough, in fact, that Cisco subsequently changed it. The offending language said “the company might keep track of a variety of information including Internet history and might share ‘aggregated and anonymous user experience information’ with service providers and other third parties.” Cisco amended this statement to one that reads, “Cisco may collect and store detailed information regarding your network configuration and usage for the purpose of providing you technical networking support.”

The proverbial damage was already done, though. The uproar got loud enough that Cisco even issued a formal apology by stating, “We believe lack of clarity in our own terms of service has contributed to many of our customers’ concerns, and we apologize for the confusion and inconvenience this has caused.”

Now, it may be true that Cisco Connect Cloud was delivered only to consumers who opted in for automatic updates, but this still seems like a pretty big gaffe for a company that should have known better. It was a double whammy for users that felt like their preferences and privacy were both compromised simultaneously. It’s hard not to fault Cisco for this misstep; it seemed very unnecessary and avoidable.

July 11 – Breaking the barrier!

Cisco then announced that it will be the “first networking vendor to deliver 1-gigabit-per-second speeds on enterprise wireless networks when it introduces an 802.11ac-based access point next year.” So after the router fiasco, the company jumped right back into the limelight with an exciting announcement that should energize wireless users around the globe. While competition to break that barrier may not be far behind, this is still an area where Cisco can call itself a leader, and there’s a lot to be said for that.

And more good news? Cisco will introduce an 802.11ac module that can be plugged into an existing Cisco Aironet 3600 access point that runs on the current 802.11n standard. According to Sujai Hajela, vice president and general manager of the wireless networking business unit at Cisco, the module “allows [customers] to upgrade and not have to go through the guesswork of, ‘Should we upgrade to 802.11n or go with 802.11ac?’ You can invest in 11n now and upgrade to 11ac with a new radio.” This truly is fantastic, groundbreaking news for Cisco and it comes directly in opposition to some of the bad press they’ve faced recently.

July 13 – Security… might be an issue.

As if the month wasn’t enough of a roller coaster, Cisco then issued security advisories about flaws in various TelePresence products that could lead to security breaches. The advisories “cautioned users an attacker could send commands over the user’s corporate network to crash the service or even take control of it, allowing the interloper to execute any commands he or she wished and potentially eavesdrop on sensitive conversations.” There were a total of 10 vulnerabilities that Cisco announced, and they ranged from the network switch to the endpoint hardware.

This was certainly a black eye Cisco couldn’t have been pleased about. It seems that these flaws may not be earth-shattering, but the announcement definitely comes at a bad time for Cisco. Users could not have liked hearing their conversations were potentially subject to hacking. That’s about as bad as it gets. Cisco has to be looking for a string of good news now.

Will confidence be shaken?

Any time bad news like this hits it’s always a matter of time before we see how negatively it affects public perception. I don’t see these dips as monumental for Cisco, but consumers may tire of watching the roller coaster rise and fall all the time. Unfortunately, this isn’t a new trend with the company. We’ve seen quite a bit of this over the past few years. Hopefully, all we’ll see is good news for a while going forward.

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