What to expect from the Cisco-Airespace union

* Cisco, Airespace make latest WLAN bedfellows

Cisco's intent to acquire wireless LAN switch start-up Airespace for $450 million in stock, announced last week, reminds me that the IT and networking businesses more closely resemble the political arena every day.

During U.S. presidential-election primaries, for example, individuals vying to become a party's top candidate trash one another's strategies as if the opponent landing in office would bring a plague upon the country. But once a candidate gets named, suddenly the winner's ideas turn perfectly acceptable to those who abhorred them the day before. Former opponents become instant supporters and possibly even running mates.

Similarly, Cisco dissed the idea of so-called WLAN switches and thin access points, which Airespace makes, for so long that it was prone to exaggerating the capabilities of its own intelligent Aironet access points to make the newer architecture seem unnecessary. For example, the company said 18 months ago that Cisco users could extend their corporate virtual LANs over Cisco wireless networks without making configuration changes to wired Cisco switches enterprisewide, which really wasn't quite the case. Side note: the Cisco IOS Transparent Firewall in Cisco routers and switches, which became available in mid-2004, now actually allows this capability.

In any event, Cisco must have felt it needed to get scalable, manageable WLAN technology into the hands of smaller enterprises and branch offices at price points better than its high-end Wireless LAN Switch Module (WLSM), announced in May for the Catalyst 6500 switch, and its Wireless LAN Solutions Engine (WLSE), which manages up to 2,500 access points but lacks some of the sophisticated RF tools that startups such as Airespace have delivered.  It's quicker to buy the capabilities than to reinvent the wheel.

Here are a few things I'd hope to eventually see come out of the Cisco-Airespace relationship. Disclaimer: This is purely my own personal wish list with no input from either company:

* Wireless switch integration with Cisco's latest WAN-access routers, the 1800, 2800 and 3800 Series Integrated Services Routers, so that branch offices can combine remote access, voice, security and, now, wireless network management in an all-in-one device with all services running at wire-speed.

* Combining Airespace's triangulation software for location tracking within a few meters of an AP with Cisco IP PBX technology for wireless E-911 applications on the Cisco CallManager IP PBX platform.

* A lower-end, yet more feature-rich, version of the WLSE for branch and smaller enterprise offices.

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