You know competition is fierce in the in-building Wi-Fi space when the industry's big dog, Cisco, makes a pretty significant technology enhancement to its Wi-Fi 802.11n access points (APs), and competitors throw darts at it.

Last week, Cisco introduced APs capable of identifying, classifying, locating and mitigating around interfering signals within an enterprise. As unlicensed spectrum is bombarded with interference from number of RF devices — smartphones, Bluetooth devices, microwave ovens, wireless video cameras, etc. — enterprise IT specialists are having a difficult time creating reliable, mission-critical, in-building Wi-Fi networks.

Cisco's new Aironet 3500 series includes a technology Cisco calls CleanAir technology that consists of a CleanAir application-specific integrated circuit (ASIC) in the access point with system-level intelligence to offer up detailed interference information.

The technology has a number of implications, said Chris Kozup, senior manager, mobility solutions with Cisco. An intuitive air-quality index — think of a spectral version of a pollution index — offers an assessment of the severity of the interference impacting an AP and has the ability to self-heal and self-optimize the network by changing resource management to improve reliability without IT intervention. In addition, security and network policy are enhanced, because network managers can more easily find rogue devices connected from both outside and inside the enterprise

Competitors have software solutions to address the interference problem, but embedding the solution directly into the ASIC is the core of competitive differentiation, Kozup said. And that is what is rubbing competitors raw.

"If you think about what competitive solutions are using is a standard Wi-Fi chipset, and it's only capable of detecting basic interference. They don't have the ability to classify to a granular level what the source is," Kozup said.

Of course, the Cisco solution makes things a bit trickier when the enterprise wants to apply it to existing 802.11n infrastructure. Competitors such as Aruba say enterprises will be forced to rip out their existing APs instead of adding new software. Kozup rebuts that notion, saying the 3500 series can be overlayed on an existing 802.11n at a 5-to-1 ratio to receive a host of interference mitigation. It wouldn’t have the full spectrum of capabilities like a greenfield deployment — most notably, the self-healing features — but such an architecture would give enterprises more insight into interference and reduce costs associated with troubleshooting and network management.

Cisco said a handful of universities are testing CleanAir on new 3500 APs, including the University of South Florida, Purdue University and Oregon's Portland State University. Telekom Austria, another beta tester, said in a statement that CleanAir helped it identify a number of devices causing interference in the 2.4 GHz band, including Bluetooth devices and microwave ovens.

From what I can see, Cisco has enhanced its competitive game in the in-building Wi-Fi arena, offering a unique capability in the AP that essentially locks the enterprise into Cisco gear. Competitors will be massaging their marketing messages to cast a negative light on that development and coming up with similar advances as they continually work to chip away at Cisco's dominance in the enterprise Wi-Fi market. It should be an interesting marketing war out there.

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