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Trojan Horse warning, as Cisco ‘gives away’ extensions to WLAN

Land Grab

The Register's Wireless LAN Channel

Cisco was accused today of attempting to create an alternative standard to WiFi in the wireless networking market, by creating a new "CCX compatible" logo.

The Cisco message is: "You need a smart 'edge' to the wireless Internet." But consultant Cees Links, a former vice-president at Agere, believes that the only people who definitely need that smart edge are Cisco people.

The giant networking company is anticipating the new Cisco WiFi architecture announcements next week, and has revealed that it is going to give away its CCX - Cisco Client Extensions - software standards to make the rival concept of "dumb edge networks" obsolete.

"This is the kind of big company play you can get away with if you dominate a market," said Links. "In effect, it will appear to give everybody access to high security features that Cisco alone has. But in fact, it will prevent other manufacturers of wireless access points - like Proxim and Symbol and so on - who won't have access to what CCX means."

Cisco Consultant Martin Cook said that his company fundamentally opposed the trend to centralised intelligence of wireless LANs, with a dumb edge. It made deployment and management more expensive, he claimed.

"When you're rolling out a WLAN and want to take some of the pain away from the difficult job of network deployment," said Cook. "If for example you take the business of managing the radio frequency problems - how are you going to do that, if you have a dumb edge? You have to have intelligence distributed around the network. We think you can't know anything about the RF environment if you have a dumb edge. We want intelligence in the AP."

Cook listed several silicon makers who produce WLAN chips, who have signed up for the CCX software. They include Intel, Atheros, Intersil, Texas Instruments, Atmel, Marvell and Agere, he said.

"Another example of the advantage of having intelligence distributed around the wireless LAN, would be fast roaming," Cook said. "If we have intelligence in the PC, in the access point, in the PDA, the handshakes that make up authentication don't have to take so much time; we can leverage the intelligence out there at the edge and improve performance. We can give our WLAN smarts to other people out there, so that the device can communicate as if it were a Cisco client, to the infrastructure."

Cees Links said: "The jury is out on whether a 'heavy' or a 'light' access point technology is best. But it almost certainly not in the best interest of the market to let Cisco dominate. What they're trying to do is to control the compatibility issues the way the WiFi Alliance controls them today."

The difference, said Links, is that the WiFi standard is open, but CCX is open only at the semiconductor level. "It's closed at the infrastructure level, so people like 3Com or Extreme or Symbol or Aruba or Trapeze would be unable to get access to CCX."

Cisco sees a need for a more intelligent infrastructure as key to its plans to sell mobile voice devices, using voice over Internet (VoIP) technology. And it believes it already has the key collaborator signed up in its push to claim dominance on WLAN technology.

"Who is going to be the key collaborator?" asked Cook rhetorically. "Intel. They will be out largest partner with respect to delivering; they are currently buying our access points, not as fast as Paul Ottolini at Intel would like because he doesn't have any money, he says - but they are already committed."

And Cisco believes that all Centrino based PCs will be CCX comformant.

Cees Links is the author of "Wireless LANs & Cisco's CCX: the Battle for Network Security" - a report looking at Cisco's role in developing secure networking.

Cees Links is President of Information Links B.V. He has been in the wireless LAN industry since it started in the 1980s. Most recently, he was Vice President of Wireless LAN Business for Agere Systems.

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