Cisco pushes CCX hard; kills off 802.11b WiFi

by Guy Kewney | posted on 12 November 2003

It's been one of the accepted "facts" of WiFi; that only consumers at home want 802.11g - and that businesses would prefer to go for 11a - but Cisco nailed that one today by coming out with an 11g access point, saying that its corporate customers have been nagging for it.

Guy Kewney

The company has also expanded its proprietary CCX (Cisco compatible extensions) licensing scheme, which claims to give users with qualifying equipment a more secure wireless environment.

CCX was denounced by rivals as a "Trojan horse" technology when it was announced, back in May, that it would be available to makers of PCs and PC cards - but not to rival access point manufacturers. Cisco, of course saw it differently: "It is to enable customers to deploy their wireless LANs with a broad variety of WiFi mobile devices and client adapters with increased confidence," it said

Cisco today announced that it has been testing notebook PCs with embedded WiFi from Dell, Fujitsu, HP, IBM, and Toshiba - and client adapters from Linksys and NETGEAR - and they have qualified as compatible with Aironet access points.

The move to 11g, which has grabbed the headlines, is only a surprise to the inattentive.

"They have been hounding us because they want wireless, they want Cisco, but they want [802.11]g," said Tom Hagin, vice president of sales at NetXperts, a Cisco Premiere Partner specialising in wireless, VPN/security and IP telephony. He told CRN: "This will open the floodgates for those customers waiting for 11g products."

Effectively, this makes 802.11b a legacy technology. It may be exaggerating to say that Cisco controls the corporate WiFi market, but it certainly dominates it to the extent that many observers have greeted its 11g device as if it were the first corporate-quality 11g equipment to be launched, and as if Cisco subsidiary Linksys was the only major supplier of 54 megabit WLAN, and it "wasn't suitable" for business use.

This would surprise resellers of Proxim equipment, including the Orinoco AP-2000 Access Point - equipment which has been selected, for example, for all Norwegian airport public access zones.

However, it's hard to see why anybody who had a choice would want to install 11b equipment now, with Cisco validating 11g. Rather, one would expect corporate IT staff to start proactively disabling 11b access points, and aggressively upgrading equipment with 11b built in, by disabling the 11b wireless, and installing PC card 11g devices.

It is even possible to set up an 11g access point to refuse connections from 11b clients, and at some point, this will start to happen.

The reason is obvious: 11g is four times faster than 11b, with a "real world data payload" of 22 megabits per second over its official 54 megabit modulation speed - compared with a 5 megabit payload over 11 megabits, for 11b.

But if you use an 11b device in an 11g area, it eats bandwidth, slowing down the 11g devices - and the more 11b devices in an area, the more pronounced this effect is. In the short term, there are too many Centrino-brand personal computers around to allow operators to cut off 11b users; in the corporate environment, however, it's hard to see why policy can't be enforced to eliminate the slower standard.

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