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Cisco Adds Voice to CCX

Cisco Compatible Extensions (CCX) are over three years old, and the technology — meant to make it easier for client devices to connect to wireless LANs built on a Cisco-based infrastructure — is ready for a "shift in focus," according to the company's Director of Wireless Marketing, Ben Gibson.

"Over the last year, we've seen a sharp increase in our enterprise customer base toward voice, expanding beyond the early white-tile applications in healthcare and warehouses, and more into the carpeted enterprise," says Gibson. For that reason, the next version of CCX, version 4.0, will be building in technology to make it easier for devices — laptops, PDAs, handsets, whatever — to do voice when accessing the WLAN.

The voice tech comes with backing from some big names, including longtime Cisco partner Intel, which builds CCX support into all the Centrino chipsets, as well as Nokia for dual-mode devices, and even Research in Motion (RIM), which Gibson expects to build CCX into a future Blackberry device with Wi-Fi support.

What will 4.0 bring to the table? Instead of clusters of calls around a single access point, the new CCX will set a pre-set number of calls per AP and enforce that, so there's no risk to the quality of the calls already in session.

"If an AP is oversubscribed, you'll get a fast busy signal to show bandwidth isn't available," says Gibson.

There will also be built-in load-balancing, providing the option of handing off a call from one overstressed AP to another. CCX will offer some tricks to improve battery life of mobile devices, as well as analyzing voice attributes like delay and jitter.

Gibson notes, "CCX is both a client implementation as well as an infrastructure implementation, and is required on both sides." Cisco only licenses CCX out to clients, reserving the CCX technology for its own Cisco Unified Wireless Network products — CCX doesn't do you any good if you've got Symbol or Aruba for your access points, nor does it help with home networks (not even Linksys APs, and Linksys is owned by Cisco). Cisco equipment, however, remains the biggest seller in the enterprise WLAN market.