Cisco Wireless LAN Products Gain Speed

By Carmen Nobel  |  Posted 2001-01-29

Cisco Systems Inc. last week introduced a set of wireless LAN products that boasts improved speed, better cross-platform support, and a more sophisticated security framework.

The Cisco Aironet 350 Series, the vendors second such introduction since it acquired Aironet in November 1999, includes a group of access points, bridges and notebook adapter cards that adheres to the 802.11b standard.

The standard promises data rates of up to 11M bps. Besides supporting all Windows operating systems, the products support Linux and Mac OS, which Ciscos previous wireless LAN products did not.

The products also include a network security framework. Based on the yet-to-be-ratified IEEE 802.1x Extensible Authentication Protocol, the framework enables centralized security management of thousands of users and the generation of single-user, single-session encryption keys. This eliminates static WEP (Wired Equivalent Privacy); a new WEP key is created for every new user and every new session.

This means centralized user ID, authentication, key management and accounting for anyone on a LAN.

"Security is a very significant concern, so the fact that Cisco is doing individual WEP keys for every new client that logs in is a big deal," said Joel Conover, an analyst at Current Analysis Inc., in Sterling, Va. Conover added that a good hacker can break a 40-bit WEP key code in a day.

"Forty-bit WEP is very crackable," he said. "Most companies use three WEP keys maximum. By generating a new WEP key for every new session, Cisco is alleviating a big problem."

The products may require a firmware upgrade to be compatible with other 802.1x products once the protocol is ratified by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.

The products include better load balancing and roaming than previous Cisco products, improving the speed from one access point to another from several milliseconds to a few seconds.

This isnt such a significant thing now because it generally takes more than a few seconds to walk a laptop from one access point to another. But once 802.11b-compliant phones come into play, it will be important to have short roaming times so as not to lose a connection.

Cisco has plans for such phones; announcements are expected later this year, officials said.

Products in the 350 line include an access point with removable antennas and in-line power for $1,499; a PC Card for $229; a PCI adapter for $339; a wireless bridge that meets fire codes and can thus be installed inside a wall for $1,999; and a new version of the companys access-control server for $5,995.

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