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Cisco's new networks: Highways, airports, and city streets

Cisco has pitched its products at data centers for years. Now it will deal with city managers, too.

Cisco Systems' new market is urban management.

The router and switch kings are teaming up with cities like Seoul, Lisbon, Madrid, San Francisco and Hamburg, Germany, on energy efficiency experiments. It will then take the successful ones and export them around the world.

In San Francisco, for instance, Cisco has rigged up a municipal bus with wireless Internet access so commuters can get their e-mail, browse the Web, or get information on when their connecting bus or train is coming in. The idea is to make public transportation more attractive and popular, which in turn reduces carbon dioxide emissions by getting people to stop taking their cars as much.

Cisco Wi-Fi
Michael Kanellos hopped aboard a Wi-Fi bus in San Francisco. Click here to see the video. CNET

In Amsterdam, the company and city authorities have erected regional smart work stations, i.e. satellite office spaces located closer to residential areas. Amsterdam and Cisco will also try to devise a Personal Travel Assistant, a GPS-like handheld that will track buses and trains, letting owners know when the next bus might arrive. Thus, if you want to get coffee before boarding, you can gauge your time.

"We will create a replicate-able system," said Cisco CEO John Chambers, speaking at the Connected Urban Development Conference sponsored by the company in San Francisco this week.

Cisco has also begun to more aggressively adopt technologies and practices to reduce fossil fuel consumption. The company, for instance, has installed a number of high-end video teleconferencing units in its global offices. This week, the company had a meeting with several thousand attendees, but only 200 were present in the company's Silicon Valley offices. Everyone else was on video consoles.

Video conferencing can also save the company $150 million a year, said Chambers.

These urban management projects, of course, could reap huge revenues for Cisco, which makes the Internet backbone equipment that makes telecommuting possible. New types of urban projects also represent something of an untapped customer base.

Cities are a natural place to start. By 2030, 60 percent of the world's population will live in cities, according to the United Nations, and cities already account for the majority of the energy consumed in the world.