Cisco to License WLAN Technology

Seeking to boost WLAN adoption, Cisco will give free WLAN software to several semiconductor, computer manufacturers.

Cisco Systems Inc. on Monday announced plans to give away wireless LAN software to several semiconductor and computer manufacturers in order to speed up the adoption of WLANs in corporate environments that use Cisco gear.

Through the Cisco Compatible Extensions Program, Cisco will provide free licenses for WLAN technology that includes security, management and roaming features not yet found in IEEE standards but which Cisco has gone ahead and added to its own products.

Lately Cisco has been focusing more on the back end than on the client side, so the company wants to make sure that other companies client-side products focus on Cisco. This will enable Cisco to include proprietary technology in its products without having to worry about interoperability with other companies products.

"We want to ensure compatibility with Cisco gear," said Bill Rossi, vice president and general manager of Ciscos Wireless Networking Business Unit in San Jose, Calif. "Our goal is to make sure the client solution works and interoperates with our infrastructure."

The companies licensing the Cisco technology account for about 90 percent of WLAN client reference designs, Cisco officials said. They include Intel Corp., which helped develop the program, Intersil Corp., Atheros Communications Inc., Texas Instruments Inc., Agere Systems Inc., Marvell Technology Group Ltd., and Atmel Corp.

They will provide silicon to PC hardware manufacturers such as IBM and Hewlett-Packard Co. An independent testing lab will be conducting interoperability tests to ensure compatibility, and the products that pass muster may receive a Cisco logo.

Officials at Cisco said that "CCX" solutions would be backward-compatible with the official standards ratified by the IEEE and the industry default standards approved by the Wi-Fi Alliance, the special interest group formerly known as the Wireless Ethernet Compatibility Alliance. The IEEE has ratified several WLAN standards in the past few years but has been slow to adopt security standards, which are key to enterprise adoption.

To that end, the Wi-Fi Alliance already has a process similar to the one Cisco announced today. The Wi-Fi Alliance has its own security protocol called Wi-Fi Protected Access. The Alliance performs compatibility tests for a number of features, and products that pass the tests receive a Wi-Fi label.

Ciscos security suite includes support for WPA and certain IEEE standards, but also includes authentication and management features found only in its own products, which is why licensees want to support it even if it does not completely adhere to industry standards.

"The progress is slow in the IEEE," said Rich Redelfs, CEO of Atheros Communications Inc. in Sunnyvale, Calif. "Its one of the reasons that the Wi-Fi alliance has adopted WPA. The real goal here is [to support] the installed base [of Cisco customers]. Its picking up those people. Its not trying to conflict with the WPA or IEEE. Standards can be slow, and in some instances we want to get things to market without the delays that happen in the IEEE."