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Cisco Live: London Show Opens With ‘Fastest’ Wi-Fi AP

Peter Judge has been involved with tech B2B publishing in the UK for many years, working at Ziff-Davis, ZDNet, IDG and Reed. His main interests are networking security, mobility and cloud

At Cisco Live, the company revealed a fast and flexible four-antenna access point but held back some details for Mobile World Congress

Network giant Cisco made a new enterprise Wi-Fi access point (AP) the lead act at its London event Cisco Live. Billed as the first AP with four antennas, it is faster than the competition, and can also be upgraded for dual duty on other network technologies.

The device was presented as the answer to the “bring your own device” movement, where users take multiple Wi-Fi devices into the office and expect to connect them. Embarrassingly for Cisco, the new access point arrived too late to help at Cisco Live itself, where demonstrators, press and delegates suffered from intermittent Wi-Fi availability.

Doubles for LTE duties

The Aironet 3600 AP has four antennas, giving more reliability, to the three spatial streams (data channels) that it can set up between itself and a client device. It also has a slot for modules to be added – the first will be a network scanning probe using the same antennas, but future modiules could make it work as a dual-purpose device, also working with LTE or other technologies in licensed spectrum, execs hinted.

The access point also may (or may not) be in the running for O2’s Wi-Fi  coverage in London, timed to coincide with the London Olympics, which look to be a major theme in the Cisco Live event.

“This access point is 30 percent faster than rival devices,” said Inbar Lasser-Raab  director of enterprise mobility at Cisco. Although other devices from vendors such as Aruba can manage three spatial streams of data between access point and client – an ability allowed by the 802.11n MIMO (multiple input, multiple output) standard – the addition of a fourth antenna will allow additional range, and more reliability at longer range, helping the batteries of mobile devices to last longer.

“It’s like having four ears to listen with and four mouths to talke with,” said Lasser-Raab. The access point is based on Cisco’s own silicon, instead of indiustry-standard chips, he said: “We work on our own RF chips – we are not picking up off the shelf chips.”

As well as the extra antenna, the 3600 has an intriguing expansion slot. “Customers are looking to protect future investments,” said Lasser-Raab. “They can install modules in the field.”

Mysterious modules

What modules these will be was a little mysterious. The AP was handed round with an RF monitor module, which will be available by the end of the year. This uses the existing antennas to turn the AP into a dual-purpose AP and radio network probe, looking for performance issues and security breaches.

More possible modules could be for other radio technologies such as 3G and LTE on licensed spectrum, providing incoor hotspots or “femtocells”.  Lasser-Raab admitted this might be a possibility but refused to comment, except to suggest that further announcements might be made at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona later this month.

The new AP got a glowing report from ThomasVogel, local area network manager at the Technical University of Darmstadt, who has updated a university-wide network from earlier Cisco APs, to support 25,000 students who all have multiple devices.

At Cisco Live, about 6,000 people with multiple device were able to bring the show’s Wi-Fi network to its knees. Cisco staff assured TechWeekEurope that it was working, but we shifted to 3G hotspot software on our phone.

The Aironet 3600 AP is available now for $1,495 (£947), or $1,595 (£1,011) for a version where the antennas are external and can be angled independently.

Cisco confirmed that the 3600 was available in demonstrations at Cisco Live, but was not on the main show network. We hope Cisco invests in a few for next year.