Industry Insiders: Chris Kozup, Cisco

We talk with Cisco’s Senior Manager of Mobility Solutions about Cisco’s market dominance, the future of 802.11n, WiMAX, greening technology, and other emerging trends in the enterprise.

“When you look at technology and what’s exciting and where the innovation is, there’s a lot that’s happening within wireless and mobility,” says Kozup, who now calls the San Francisco Bay Area home.

We spoke with Kozup in February, just before he left to run a marathon in Antarctica—it doesn’t get much more mobile than that—to get his perspective on the Wi-Fi industry. Below are excerpts from our conversation.

On his own mobile devices: “I use a Nokia E61i, dual-mode device, a 7921 Wi-Fi-only VoIP phone by Cisco in the office, a Razr (in black) for personal use, an iPod, and a laptop.”

On Cisco’s dominance in the 802.11n market: Cisco has been in the Wi-Fi market for nine years now. We have a lot of heritage in this market. We first entered the market through the acquisition of Aironet…Aironet as an acquisition, as a product, allowed us to enter the Wi-Fi market, enabling enterprise-class wireless capabilities, whereas before, 802.11 was relegated to vertical environments, like retail and warehouses.

“Aironet also brought core expertise in RF technologies and radio and antenna technologies. If you look at the evolution of our product portfolio, you’ll see over that nine-year history that we’ve really expanded Wi-Fi technology…Cisco drives the standards, bodies, and terms within the IEEE and the Wi-Fi Alliance. That heritage had us positioned well for the move into next gen wireless—802.11n. When you look at the industry and you look at where folks are in terms of competitors and others, the history in the market, it’s not surprising to see we are first to market. We are shipping in solid quantities, across a number of verticals, our 11n product.

“Cisco was the only system vendor to have an 11n product in the Wi-Fi Alliance test bed when it was looking to test and certify 11n. So, we were the first to have a WFA-certified product for 11n draft 2.0. Why release a product when the standard is still in draft form? Our goal is to ensure that we protect the investment that others make in our technology.

“We obviously can’t introduce a technology we don’t expect to be around for the long-term—that’s not in the best interest of the company. What we found, as we kind of looked at the broader market and the ecosystem of what our lead partners were doing, was that the Wi-Fi Alliance was pushing 11n, and it became clear to us—with Intel shipping a broad number of Centrino devices with their vPro clients that were 11n-supported, and with the WFA tracking toward initial certification—that the pieces of the puzzle were aligning to allow us to deliver a product we had confidence in. With the progress the IEEE was making, we had a sense that the standard was not complete, but was very stable. It required software modification rather than hardware modification.” Chris Kozup Headshot08.jpg

On emerging trends:

“I’ve been tracking the industry in various capacities since 1998. Obviously the changes in the technology from then to now are quite dramatic…In terms of the innovation that has occurred in Wi-Fi, it’s not just the underlying architecture, but the business apps and mobility solutions that Wi-Fi serves as the basis for. Whenever you see that in an industry—if you have a technology become much larger and broader—the focus shifts from the underlying technology to the application…That’s where things start to get interesting.

“We are now on the cusp of this for a year or so, where we are starting to see really innovative uses of wireless, of Wi-Fi, in and around different services, now that we are able to deliver from the network.

“If we look at our customer base, there are three key things that the broader enterprise customer is facing these days: the complexity of managing the growth in wireless devices coming into their networks—iPhone, iTouch—there’s been tremendous growth in devices. And not just end-user devices. It could be peripherals or medical devices that now have Wi-Fi…

“The second element here is, if you consider the growth of the devices, but also the user demand to connect into wireless, they are looking to use the applications for it, they are seeking connectivity. That drives broader pervasive deployments …How can I drive wireless more pervasively throughout my business? That’s where 11n comes in, as they look at driving wireless more pervasively…

“The third element is user identity—the concept that you and I and really (kind of) most employees are increasingly mobile. We connect into a variety of different networks across a variety of different devices. We connect through cellular, Wi-Fi, etc. The need that that creates is to ensure, from a business perspective, that we are delivering consistent identity to the user, regardless of mode of transport.

“These three elements are part of what’s driving a lot of the innovation within Wi-Fi customer-base systems, driving demand for new technologies, services, security methods, performance—11n, fits very well into that.”

On 802.11n and VoIP: “With VoWi-Fi, there often is a lot of focus in the industry on seamless handoff. I have a device for voice or for data—there’s as much these days with data applications in a multi-network environment (Wi-Fi/cellular) as with voice—but there’s a lot of emphasis on how can that device roam from one network to the next. Our view is to take a step back and really kind of frame out the actual business need here. When you focus specifically on the seamless handoff, it’s easy to say that’s the solution in and of itself…

“In a typical business, you have multiple, different classes of mobile employee. We have those who are the corridor cruiser, move throughout the building, but not beyond. The road warrior who is mostly out of the building. The knowledge worker, often in the building, but always in meetings, then out of the building.

“The best tools for one class are not the same for another class of employees. Seamless handoff for unified communications is not really true. If I can provision a single number reach service that can connect into Wi-Fi, but I can also establish a single number reach that allows my phone to ring on my desktop, without broaching seamless handoff.

“…The concept of seamless handoff and seamless roaming, Cisco is working to address that more as a technical challenge than as anything else. Consistency, of application, is most notable in voice, but is relevant to other applications as well. The industry is not quite there. There are various competing architectures out there that address different types of problems, carrier-focused approaches, but are addressed for the consumer market. The enterprise market is very different than that. The enterprise market looks to own or control that network intelligence, how does the network transfer a user session from one network to the next.”

On Cisco’s priorities: “Cisco’s position in the market is that we drive the market. We have about 65% market share. If our only focus was to take share from competitors, we wouldn’t make the number that is required from a business perspective. When you think about what our focus needs to be, it’s really about how we can grow the market, beyond just taking share from competitors. That defines our priorities.

“We’re looking for ways to insert Wi-Fi to deliver tangible solutions. In the location space, moving into a health care environment, use Wi-Fi to track assets, or improve specific processes within that facility. That’s a business application that is beyond, ‘hey, I’m just using Wi-Fi to pass data or check my e-mail.’

“We see that across a number of verticals, in terms of how we can elevate the discussion to be more of a business discussion. Retailers have used Wi-Fi for a long time, in distribution centers, warehouses, and increasingly in the stores—most large retailers have Wi-Fi. They typically look at Wi-Fi as being for a single application, and our goal is to illustrate a breadth of solutions that we can prove. Push-to-talk voice capabilities that supplant the need to deploy Nextel walkie-talkies, mobile digital signage, where wireless is the backhaul. Looking for mobile kiosks for customer self-service. Innumerable examples of how we’re looking to elevate the discussion beyond the underlying transport technology. That then becomes relevant to a line of business…as opposed to just IT.

“…At Cisco, you’ll find this strong belief that the network is the platform for service delivery. That tends to shape the breadth of our R&D, to build components within our solution that really enable embedded services, so that customers have a single point to go to within their artheitcture, so they don’t have to buy mulitmple elements from different vendors.

“…Unlike our competitors, we are delivering tools that provide visibility into the wireless evironment that start to bring management of the wireless environment up to par with what hardware we have today; interference form Bluetooth devices mircrowaves, garage door openers, etc. All of these RF signals or transmitters that could essentially bring down an enterprise Wi-Fi network–we provide tools that allow customers to have visitiblity into that, to basically determine that they have a network that is performing to the same extent as wired.”

On “greening” technology: “Power-saving—that impacts our development process in multiple ways. How can we decrease the actual complexity and materials usage of the solutions we deliver? For instance, if we could look to bundle multiple access points as we ship them to reduce packaging in any way, there’s an energy-saving component, not within the system itself, but within our broader focus of ensuring that we, as a company, are moving increasingly towards green priority.

“In terms of product development, can we deliver an AP with mounting that is the same as the previous verison, so you don’t have to drill new holes or throw away mounting brackets from the previously existing access point? Or, just in terms of how we develop systems and the amount of power that they require from AP and controller systems, we’ve integrated control functionality directly into our switching platforms, which has implications for power draw and power consumption.

“Where solar becomes important is in the outdoor space. Cisco is the leader in Wi-Fi mesh and muni deployments of outdoor wireless. We’ve also acquired Navini to make our foray into the WiMAX market. One of the the things of outdoor mesh is to extend coverage often where it doesn’t exist. Oftenit’s hard to have power at all of those locations. We have a partnership with people who look for integrated power sysems for those APs, so they can stand free of a wired power source. I don’t know who those partners are, but that would be where our focus would be, in terms of  alternative power sources in the outdoors.”

On WiMAX: “We announced our intent to acquire Navini, one of the leading WiMAX providers. The acquisition has not closed yet, so we are in the process of closing. Then, when you look at what Cisco’s view of broader mobility is, there’s a lot of importance in how we deliver services…Let’s face it–Cisco’s broader ambition is to IP-enable the world. Not to sound cliché, but you get my point, in terms of taking IP connectivity into places where it didn’t previously exist. It allows us to extend the reach of the network into underdeveloped areas, into areas with no copper or fiber, and do that in a way that ensures the performance that folks–service providers–are going to need to provision services.

WiMAX fills the gap that Wi-Fi falls short on. Good for outdoors; extend IP connectivity. Our vision here is really the unification of network elements…There’s a lot of…misperceptions about WiMAX and what is it–a Wi-Fi killer? The two technologies co-exist. There are different apps for WiMAX that are much better suited for the technology than for Wi-Fi.”

Naomi Graychase is Managing Editor at Wi-FiPlanet.

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