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Cisco Aims for Clean Air on Wi-Fi

Enterprise Wi-Fi networks can face interference from plenty of source. Now, networking vendor Cisco wants provide enterprises with better visibility into what's using their Wi-Fi spectrum with its new Clean Air technology.

With Clean Air visibility, Cisco (NASDAQ: CSCO) is aiming to identify potential wireless LAN deployment issues with the goal of working around the sources of interference. Clean Air is being delivered as a silicon-based enhancement that runs on the new Cisco Aironet 3500 Series Access points.

"Much like a smog index, when the smog index is bad, you don't want to go outside and run a marathon," David Stiff, a product marketing manager at Cisco, told InternetNews.com. "Air quality for Wi-Fi is the same thing, but there is something we can do about it. We can take actions to mitigate the air quality issues to get rid of the interference that is out there."

Stiff added that the basis of Clean Air is technology that Cisco acquired through its purchase of Cognio in 2007. What Cognio had was a laptop-based troubleshooting tool for identifying areas of spectrum interference. Now with Clean Air, Cisco has taken the same logic from Cognio's tool and put it into a customer ASIC that runs on the wireless access point. The ASIC includes both an 802.11n radio as well as the spectrum analysis technology on a single chip.

With Clean Air, Stiff said customers can more easily understand and avoid the impact that other wireless devices, whether they're cordless phones, Bluetooth devices or microwave ovens, have on the quality of Wi-Fi spectrum. Going a step further, Clean Air provides users with visualization tools to precisely see how their Wi-Fi network's spectrum is performing.

When trouble is identified, the access point channel can be changed proactively to move away from the source of interference. Additionally, Stiff noted that Clean Air is able to detect potential Wi-Fi threats that are visible because of their impact on spectrum, even if they don't show up on a traditional intrusion detection system -- dangers like rogue, packet-sniffing access points.

Other vendors like Aruba and Motorola also have their own spectrum analysis software that runs on access points. As a point of differentiation, Stiff stressed that the custom ASIC enables Cisco Clean Air to do faster realtime analysis than rivals.

Currently, Clean Access is only available on the Aironet 3500 Series Access points, though the technology is likely to be added to other high-end wireless access points in the Cisco portfolio.

"I wouldn't expect to see Clean Air in everything," Stiff said. "It's going to be in the premier tier of our access points."

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at InternetNews.com, the news service of Internet.com, the network for technology professionals.