‘Cisco Compatible’ Coming to Your Laptop

Cisco Systems announced today that it will be freely sharing technology with partners to give Wi-Fi a further push for mass adoption by enterprise companies.

The technology in question is called Cisco Compatible Extensions (CCX) and features security and range enhancement software for 802.11-based network client products. Chip makers will be able to build the technology into their wireless chipsets for client cards and embedded Wi-Fi. The announced silicon partners include Intel (who helped build the first CCX 1.0 specification), as well as Atheros, Agere, Atmel , Intersil , Texas Instruments , and Marvell . Cisco says as many as four or five more parterners could be announced in the coming weeks.

PC makers such as HP and IBM are already planning to make laptops available with CCX-capable Wi-Fi chips before the end of the year.

Cisco will provide CCX to silicon partners, who will design chips using the extensions and create reference designs for those chips. An ODM or OEM can source, for example, a miniPCI client card and will get the chipset tested for compatibility on behalf of the client device. Clients with chips using the technology may be branded as “Cisco Compatible.”

CCX program is focused specifically on client systems. According to Bill Rossi, vice president and general manager of the Wireless Networking Business Unit at Cisco, the company will continue to work on silicon for access points and other wireless infrastructure devices.

“We’ve made a strategic decision to focus on infrastructure and less on clients, leaving that to our partners,” says Rossi. Current Cisco Aironet infrastructure products are already CCX capable. Cisco has no current plans to license CCX out to other makers of wireless network infrastructure equipment.

CCX is meant to work “over and above” the 802.11 specifications (specifically 802.11b and a for now, with 11g support to come when the specification is finalized later this year). Rich Redelfs, president of Atheros, says ” Think of it as standards ‘plus.'”

Cisco is already the leader in enterprise Wi-Fi, commanding 30.9% of the market share for North America and 34.4% for the entire world according to Synergy Research Group.

A report out this week from Infonetics Research says that enterprise WLAN growth is expected to go from generating revenue of $1.68 billion in 2002 to $2.72 billion by 2006.

Cisco’s Rossi says the point of this industry partnership is to push the current standards bodies like the IEEE and Wi-Fi Alliance — groups to which all the CCX partners belong in some capacity.

“The goal is not to have this group together for ever,” says Rossi. “We want to innovate and get these technologies as part of the standard when they’re proven to work.”

Products based on CCX 1.0 are expected to ship in the second part of 2003. CCX version will be released to vendors in the next two months and will include support for PEAP in 802.1X authentication and full Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA), the security subset of 802.11i set out by the Wi-Fi Alliance, when using Cisco’s own LEAP extensible authentication protocol.

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