Under a new rule designed to increase the capabilities of wireless hardware, the Federal Communications Commission has begun certifying the use of software-defined radios for Wi-Fi access points.
Cisco Systems Inc. last week announced that the FCC has approved its 802.11a radios as SDRs.
With an SDR, "you can completely change the nature of the radio," said Steve Durst, a research engineer at security consultancy Skaion Corp., in North Chelmsford, Mass., whose past experience includes reprogramming radios for military applications.
For Cisco, the FCC certification lets the company make its 802.11a radios field-upgradable—to run across 23 channels of spectrum rather than 12, increasing network capacity without requiring more hardware, officials said.
The IEEE 802.11a standard enables data throughput rates of up to 54MB per second in the 5GHz range. (The FCC recently allowed 802.11a radios to run in the range of 5.4GHz to 5.7GHz, too, hence the addition of 11 more channels.)
Ciscos new Aironet 1240AG Series access points will be the companys first products to be SDR field-upgradable. The capability is due by the middle of next year.
The company plans to get SDR certification for its Aironet 1130AG Series access points as well, officials said. The company has tested all the algorithms for the 1130AG, and achieving certification will be just a matter of changing prototype code. SDR capability will not be available on the companys 1000 Series lightweight access points. But officials added that both the 1130AG and 1240AG can be upgraded to operate as lightweight access points with centralized switches and that the SDR capability will still work.
In the future, Cisco may use SDRs for a wide range of frequency bands, transmission techniques and modulation schemes. A single radio could replace myriad hardware designs, thus saving money and time to market, officials said. This could also include support for multiple wireless protocols, supporting not only Wi-Fi but also cellular networks and future wireless broadband technologies such as WiMax.
"The visionary thing is that future software-defined radios could go from network to network and switch back and forth seamlessly," said Ron Seide, a senior product manager in the wireless networking business unit at Cisco, in Richfield, Ohio.
On the client side, this could be a boon for both hardware developers and customers who yearn for the perfect all-in-one device.
"Id rather just have one device than a Wi-Fi device and a cell phone and all that other junk," Durst said.
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