Cisco Systems Inc. is set to introduce a dual-band version of its popular 1100 Series wireless access point, a boon for enterprise customers looking to support voice and data on WLANs. But a lack of tools to make the devices easier to configure and manage might still leave users wanting.
The Aironet 1130AG will include two integrated radios, one that supports 802.11a at 5GHz and one that supports 802.11g at 2.4GHz, which can run simultaneously, according to sources familiar with the plans. While the two protocols offer similar speeds, the 5GHz range, with its increased number of channels, is considered better for voice traffic.
"As we add wireless voice over IP, we will need more channels and more bandwidth, which are available with 802.11a," said John Halamka, CIO of Harvard Medical School and CareGroup Health System, a hospital group in Boston that uses Aironet 1100s in its wireless LANs.
Cisco officials declined to comment on the access point, but pictures of the product and a 124-page users guide were posted on the Federal Communications Commissions Web site last week. Companies are required to submit documentation to the FCC for products that include wireless radios. Sources close to the San Jose, Calif., company said Cisco will release the product by years end.
The Cisco 1130AG is expected to appeal to enterprises that want to expand wireless availability to users and offer converged communications. But while the WLAN (wireless LAN) industry trend is to simplify implementation and use for small businesses and branch offices, the new access points do little to ease management.
According to Ciscos installation guide, the 1130AG will include a browser-based management system and SNMP support, much like the 1100. Cisco has a separate management product called the Wireless LAN Solution Engine, but the WLSE upgrades that will appear by years end are expected to be nominal, sources said.
According to the guide, 1130AG users must have experience working with the notoriously complex Cisco IOS (Internetwork Operating System) software. Industry analysts and customers say the primary WLAN complaint against Cisco remains the weakness of its CiscoWorks LAN management software.
"In general, Cisco tools are hard to use," said Harvards Halamka. "Many use command lines without intelligent error-checking. You can input mutually contradictory rules, and there is no error-checking. Cisco seems to have the attitude that smart people will not use simple tools."
Cisco officials said the company is working on the problem. "Cisco provides an evolving set of management tools," said Ron Seide, senior product line manager at Cisco. "We will introduce new management features as they become available."
Ease of management has been a deciding factor for IT administrators who choose a centralized switch-based WLAN; myriad companies such as Trapeze Networks Inc. now offer this alternative.
"The discriminator that made Trapeze different from everyone else was that they made software to make life easy," said Jan Snyder, senior telecommunications consultant in information services at San Antonio Community Hospital, in Upland, Calif. "It takes minutes versus days."
Trapeze this week will introduce a version of its WLAN switch aimed at customers who want to support branch offices that have limited or no IT staff, according to officials at the Pleasanton, Calif., company.
Designed to communicate with a bigger MX-8 switch at a customers main office, the MXR-2 can be configured remotely by downloading configurations from headquarters using Trapezes RingMaster tool suite. The MXR-2 supports only three access points, but it costs only $995.