Cisco Exec Calls for Stronger Wi-Fi Support in Enterprise

In his Wi-Fi Planet Fall 2003 keynote, Cisco Systems' Steve Nye said greater wireless access in the enterprise can improve worker productivity.

SAN JOSE, CALIF.—Although the number of Wi-Fi-enabled devices is steadily growing, a Cisco Systems executive on Wednesday said the technology needs a few specific nudges to push it into ubiquity.

In his keynote address here at the Wi-Fi Planet Fall 2003 Conference and Expo, Steve Nye, general manager of Cisco Systems Inc.s Building Broadband business unit said that Wi-Fi will be the technology that enables workers to roam wirelessly, increasing their productivity and ability to collaborate with other workers around the world.

On the client side, Wi-Fi has won the war. Nye pointed to research predicting that by 2005 some 80 percent of all laptops will be wireless-enabled. Now, Nye said, enterprises and infrastructure providers must build out wireless networks in corporations and in public venues, allowing workers 24-by-7 access to the Internet.

However, enterprise Wi-Fi use is still largely reserved for senior management, according to a study performed by London-based NOP World technology study, and cited by Nye. When deployed to the rank-and-file, however, NOP found that a worker with access to Wi-Fi showed a 27 percent productivity gain based upon the increased time that the employee had access to the corporate network. Over time the additional access generated an additional $14,000 in revenue per employee per year, Nye said.

Nye said that he himself works with Cisco employees as well as other companies scattered throughout the world. A virtual meeting may take place at lunchtime in Silicon Valley, but occur in the middle of the night in India, he pointed out. Forcing a worker to be tied to an office desk makes little sense, he said.

"The things that were accustomed to doing in an enterprise-centered location, we need to do at home, on the road, in airports and in conference centers," Nye said.

Moreover, Wi-Fi providers have largely solved a number of early challenges. Prices for Wi-Fi chips and equipment continue to fall, driven by increased competition. Early WEP (Wired Equivalent Privacy) security, Nye acknowledged, was sub par. But the introduction of WEP security and the nascent 802.11i security standard will "really put to bed the security issue," Nye said.

The focus now is on the enterprise. Companies need to develop products and services to allow contractors, vendors and other guests to have access to a corporate network without permitting them inside the companys firewall and without adding a second network, Nye said.

In addition, Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) infrastructures need to be developed so that employees can communicate over wireless networks throughout a companys campus. Finally, workers need to be able to seamlessly roam between Wi-Fi and cellular networks, maintaining a connection at all times, and taking advantage of the public wireless infrastructure where they can, he said.

Nye said that both Europe and Asia have done a superior job of designing public hot spots that users can access, a contention that one Swedish attendee disputed.

"I think that Wi-Fi is a U.S.-based technology, so its stronger here," said Jan Forslow, chief technology officer for Stockholms ipUnplugged, a mobile VPN provider.

Forslow said he supported Nyes belief that Wi-Fi needs to be easier to use. Although Sweden has indeed built a network of hot spots, they went initially unused because of high prices and the difficulty of using them, he said.

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