Cisco Makes Location Part of the Network

When a big name in wireless LANs like Cisco Systems jumps into a new area of the market, people pay attention. The company’s buyout of Airespace was welcomed by the WLAN switching companies as “validation” of their technology. Now Cisco is doing the same for location awareness and asset tracking on Wi-Fi networks, and is going so far as to partner with two companies that offer 802.11-based RFID tags.

Cisco announced its Wireless Location Appliance 2700 at Interop in Las Vegas this week. The hardware works with the Cisco Wireless Control System—the former Airespace switches and thin APs—to identify within a few meters up to 1,500 wireless players on the network, from PDAs and phone handsets to laptops, on up to rogue clients and APs, as well as the aforementioned Wi-Fi tracking tags. WCS shows the location on a floor plan.

Airespace had launched location services on its switches about a year ago, which at the time included a deal with Aeroscout (then called Bluesoft), which sells tracking tags. Cisco’s original Aironet APs will also work with the appliance, once they’ve been upgraded to support the Lightweight Access Point Protocol (LWAPP).

Alan Cohen, formerly of Airespace and now the senior director of product management in Cisco’s Wireless Network Business Unit, calls the appliance “the first deeply integrated location services in the infrastructure.” More than just helping track users and products, he says the location awareness is “key in our security strategy.” He says you want to know where things like rogue APs or intrusions are happening so you can stop them physically, if needed.

Ann Sun, Cisco’s Senior Manager of Wireless and Mobility Solutions, adds that by using the Cisco-based wireless infrastructure with the appliance, businesses save money by not installing an overlay network used just for tracking.

Partners with Cisco in the announcement include Aeroscout and Pango Networks, both of whom offer their own Wi-Fi tracking tags that can be tracked by the 2700 appliance.

It’s no surprise that the President and CEO of Pango, Mike McGuiness, says that Cisco’s entry in the market “further legitimizes the importance of location” but also points out the limitations of the CWS interface: “Cisco is serving up XY coordinates…on a floor in a building. There’s a lot more that end users need to really take advantage of [asset tracking],” he says.

To that end, Pango is a partner in Cisco’s launch of the 2700, and has integrated its own Locator 2.0 RFID server software to work with the hardware. McGuiness says that Pango is the only company so far to “leverage the Cisco location server” with its application.

Cisco’s deal with Pango is not exclusive, however, and the appliance has an open Application Programming Interface (API). Aeroscout says it’s already working to integrate its own MobileView with the 2700. Other location-awareness specific companies, like Newbury Networks and Ekahau, could take advantage of the product in the future.

The location appliance is already in use at test locations in the healthcare market (the initial target market), including some installed by integrator IBM Global Services.

The 2700 will sell for $15,000 and should be available in June.

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