Cisco to Offer Free Licenses for WLAN Apps

Wants to ensure client-side devices are compatible with Cisco gear.

Cisco Systems Inc. last week announced plans to give away WLAN software to several semiconductor and computer manufacturers to get more client-side devices to work with Cisco gear.

Through the CCX (Cisco Compatible Extensions) Program, Cisco will provide free licenses for wireless LAN technology that includes security, management and roaming features not yet found in IEEE standards but which Cisco has 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 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 conduct interoperability tests to ensure compatibility, and the products that pass muster may receive a Cisco logo.

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, the special interest group formerly known as the Wireless Ethernet Compatibility Alliance, last year announced a testing process similar to the one Cisco announced last week. The alliance, which includes most major WLAN equipment manufacturers, has its own security protocol called WPA (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 CCX

  • WhatProgram that ensures compatibility between Cisco Aironet wireless infrastructure products and client devices from third parties
  • HowCisco licenses client technology to major silicon suppliers who plan to incorporate it into their reference designs
  • Who Licensees include Intel, Atheros, Intersil, Texas Instruments, Agere, Marvell and Atmel

Cisco officials said CCX includes support for WPA and certain IEEE standards but also includes authentication and management features found mainly in its own products, which angers competitors and critics.

"We think this is just a further proprietary move by Cisco to lock customers into their infrastructure," said Mark Shapiro, a spokesman for WLAN equipment maker Proxim Inc.

But CCX licensees said they intend to support it even if it does not completely adhere to industry standards, making parallels between CCX and WPA.

"The progress is slow in the IEEE," said Rich Redelfs, CEO of Atheros, 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."