Wi-Fi wedding

Industry giants Cisco and Intel have forged a Wi-Fi alliance designed to improve the integration of their wireless products.

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By  Alex Ritman Published  September 17, 2005

|~|Itani,-Rab_m.jpg|~|“A collaboration between two dominant IT vendors intending to come up with a specific solution is usually healthy for the industry. However, if the collaboration results in a proprietary solution that will compete with existing and emerging industry standards, the results could be negative on the customer side.” - Rabih Itani, the American University of Beirut’s network and security manager for computing and networking services.|~|Cisco and Intel have signed an agreement to provide wireless network products with improved quality of service (QoS), security and ease of use ‘out of the box’. During a presentation by Intel’s mobility group chief at the company’s Developer Forum in California, executives from both firms unveiled the new set of features. Called the Business Class Wireless Suite, it will be aimed at companies that deploy both Cisco’s Unified Wireless Architecture and Intel’s Centrino mobile platforms. “Business Class Wireless Suite provides an enhanced set of capabilities that makes wireless LANs more robust for the enterprise, supporting enhanced roaming and business applications such as VoIP,” the companies say in the press release. Charlie Giancarlo, Cisco’s chief development officer, says the alliance would combine the efforts of the two powerhouses as they try to overcome some of the more complicated issues in the Wi-Fi space. “Voice over IP on Wi-Fi is really, really tricky,” Giancarlo admits. There are two main objectives to the work. The first will be to develop enhanced VoIP QoS technology, boosting audio technology and more reliably deploying VoIP and voice communications on laptop computers. The second aim is to optimise access point selection technology. Currently chips look for the access point with the strongest signal, but the new technology will instead give notebooks the ability to use quality of bandwidth and connectivity criteria when searching the Wi-Fi network, on top of providing more efficient roaming capabilities. Both objectives are due to be met by the emerging Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) standards, 802.11e and 802.11r, which are expected to be ratified by October 2005 and 2007 respectively. Analysts are calling the collaboration logical, and an intuitive match, pointing to Cisco’s strength in the Wi-Fi arena for both consumers and the enterprise, and Intel’s promotion and development of the technology. The linking of the chip manufacturer with one of the largest hot spot providers was seen as a sensible move that would bolster the viability of VoIP over wireless LAN (Vo-Fi) and be good news for both corporate and consumer users. With the size and strength of both Intel and Cisco in the PC and network industries, many say they are well placed to make their planned VoIP and Wi-Fi capabilities widespread, despite the fact there are no formal QoS standards ratified. On standard Wi-Fi networks, VoIP calls have to battle with every other data packet that is being exchanged by one or more users. As a result, sound quality can suffer. According to Intel, the technology from the partnership will allow Intel Centrino chipsets in laptop computers to reserve capacity on a Wi-Fi access point, and in communicating the need for packet prioritisation the call quality can be guaranteed. The move is generally seen as positive by Rabih Itani, the American University of Beirut’s network and security manager for computing and networking services. “A collaboration between two dominant IT vendors intending to come up with a specific solution is usually healthy for the industry. However, if the collaboration results in a proprietary solution that will compete with existing and emerging industry standards, the results could be negative on the customer side.” Itani indicates that the move might give a much-needed push to the 802.11e standard, which has been in the works for almost six years. “The time taken in ratification might have had the negative impact of delaying customer purchase decisions for Vo-Fi solutions, giving some justification to the Intel/Cisco imitative as a move to push customers to make up their mind and deploy Vo-Fi fast.” The collaboration might also give a nudge to those working on the standard. “The Intel/Cisco move might be considered as an interim solution and might push the IEEE to put the 802.11e standard on a faster track,” adds Itani. Despite the positive affect the move from the two vendors might have on the industry, Itani warned that it would restrict customer choice. “Customers who choose to implement the Intel/Cisco approach will be locked into one vendor solution at their network end points (softphones, handsets…etc) and network access points, while adopting standards in deploying solutions will allow for multi-vendor interoperability (mobility and portability), a wider selection of solution pieces, and better development of services around the implementation solution, so higher ROI.” Despite the new functionalities of the Intel/Cisco technology, Itani isn’t sure it was worth the risk of being locked with a proprietary solution. “Reasons for taking the risk become less compelling when we know there are other solutions in the market that do not mandate specific network end points and can help, if the network is well designed, to run Vo-Fi traffic, at least until the 802.11e standard is ratified and shipped.” At the American University of Beirut, Itani has deployed a solution from Aruba Networks to run Vo-Fi needs. “The Aruba-based solution makes smart decisions in making sure that the client is associated with the access points based on identified resource availability parameters and not just signal levels.” The university has also made sure that the purchased Aruba gear is software upgradeable to comply with the 802.11e standard. QoS may be one thorny issue that the Intel/Cisco partnership is attempting to solve, but Itani is quick to point out that it solves “only one piece of making Wi-Fi infrastructure ready for voice. The solution must be complemented with other capabilities for security, availability, performance, ease of management and agility.” One of the ‘pieces’ raised by Itani could well be addressed, with the two companies also stressing their security focus. Intel will join the network admission control (NAC) programme, a Cisco-led industry initiative to help customers identify, prevent and adapt security threats. The initiative looks at the increasing insecurity of laptops and identifies them as a key way for viruses and other malware to slip past defences, such as antivirus and firewall protection. Intel is the first chip manufacturer to join NAC, which also includes security vendors such as Trend Micro, Symantec and McAfee. In the other direction, Cisco is to join Intel’s active management technology (AMT) programme. Analysts have said such moves will allow enterprises to better defend themselves against security threats, reducing cost and improving system remediation. 802.11r explained 802.11r is a proposed IEEE protocol for facilitating the deployment of IP-based telephony over 802.11-enabled phones. The standard is designed to speed up the handoff between access points in a wireless LAN. This is regarded as one of the prerequisites for the widespread deployment of Vo-Fi handsets. At the moment, roaming delays measure hundreds of milliseconds and the IEEE must bring this below a 50 millisecond threshold for handoffs to be seamless. 802.11r refines the transition process of a mobile client as it moves between access points. The protocol allows a wireless client to establish a security and QoS state at a new access point before making a transition, which leads to minimal loss.||**||

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