Cisco Goes Wide

After quietly working on a consulting basis with customers on a few metropolitan-sized wireless LANs, Cisco Systems said today that it has seen enough interest in this segment of the market to make its outdoor wireless program official. Thus is born the Cisco Metropolitan Mobile Network solution (MMNS).

Key in Cisco’s offering — which is geared toward private sector city agencies from first responders to city workers to transportation services, at least for now– is mobility. The products they’re offering include a router that can go in a vehicle and support roaming over multiple wireless networks.

“In a city, you could build out with the Metropolitan Mobile Network solution and get a single integrated network infrastructure that would support multiple wireless technologies,” says Ann Sun, senior manager of Wireless Mobility at Cisco. “It’s not just 802.11. It would be cellular, 1X-RTT, even satellite,” among others. The system would be made to offer future wireless technologies as they become available, including WiMax/802.16. The system will use mobile IP technology to roam from one kind of wireless connection to another without any significant hand-off time in between.

Among the products Cisco plans to offer in the MMNS include the in-vehicle Cisco 3200 series Wireless and Mobile Router. This box uses a typical Cisco IOS and features a 10/100 switch, but also builds in 802.11 to function as an access point feeding the wireless network to the entire vehicle, be it a car, bus, or train. Thus a police cruiser with one in the back could use it to connect to the network infrastructure, and also utilize it as the in-vehicle infrastructure of a WLAN for ruggedized laptops, for instance. The 3200 can also be used in a fixed position; Sun points out that one deployment Cisco has done, in London’s City of Westminster, has 3200 units mounted on poles in a weather-proof NEMA enclosure to connect a series of surveillance cameras.

The main outdoor infrastructure would come from Aironet Outdoor AP/Bridges: the model 1300, an 802.11b/g unit for medium range bridging and the Aironet 1400 Series, which supports 802.11a and is used for long range connections. Such units mounted strategically in a city can provide a Wi-Fi cloud that municipal workers can use with any 802.11 wireless device, or provide connections for the roaming when using the 3200 router.

While the target audience for MMNS is municipalities and their employees, Sun says it would not be difficult for the cities and counties using it to put the same infrastructure to work providing public access hotspots if desired.

Cisco’s move into city-wide wireless comes after many companies are seeing success rolling out such infrastructures for public or municipal uses, or both. Companies like Tropos Networks, a mesh hardware provider, have had significant success with equipment in towns like Cerritos, Calif.

When asked about Cisco’s position on using a mesh topology for this kind of network, Sun says, “If you design a city or county wide deployment, you design the coverage to handle the hand-offs between types of wireless…it’s very well designed and not ad hoc [like many wireless mesh connections].” She says the capabilities for transporting things like video and audio are more scalable with Cisco’s products.

Cisco is working closely with integrator partners to get the MMNS out and thus pricing on equipment varies, especially on the highly configurable 3200 router. Base prices are $3,650 for the 3200, $1,299 for the Aironet 1300, and $1,499 for the Aironet 1400.

“Over the last year we’ve seen a lot of public sectors using wireless for more collaboration and with more efficiency,” says Sun. “We’ve seen enhanced collaboration between all agencies, not just governmental groups — but also first responders and transportation like buses and trains. Cities want an infrastructure to support multiple agencies.”

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