Cisco enters citywide wireless market

Cisco Systems, a leading supplier of wireless gear in homes and businesses, is taking its technology outside as it helps cities build Wi-Fi networks.

Marguerite Reardon Former senior reporter
Marguerite Reardon started as a CNET News reporter in 2004, covering cellphone services, broadband, citywide Wi-Fi, the Net neutrality debate and the consolidation of the phone companies.
Marguerite Reardon
3 min read
Cisco Systems will throw its hat into the municipal Wi-Fi ring on Tuesday when it announces wireless-network product enhancements that extend its technology into outside deployments.

Cisco has developed a new series of access points, called the Cisco Aironet 1500 Series, that can be used for citywide Wi-Fi deployments. These new access points can be deployed on rooftop, light posts and power poles.

To maximize capacity, each access point is equipped with two radios. One radio uses a radio frequency protocol called Adaptive Wireless Path Protocol for access-point-to-access-point communications. The other radio is used to provide bandwidth to users.

Cisco is already the dominant supplier of wireless local-area networking equipment in the home market--through its Linksys product line--and in the enterprise market as well.

Locating local internet providers

The new access points will use "mesh" technology to communicate with each other and find the best path for traffic traveling through the wireless network.

"The wireless market is moving from the home and enterprise to the outdoors," said Alan Cohen, senior director in Cisco's wireless networking business unit. "It was the next logical step for us."

Locating local internet providers

The market for citywide wireless networks is enormous, analysts have said. Cities of all sizes across the United States view Wi-Fi as a cost effective answer to many of their communication problems.

Some cities, like Philadelphia and San Francisco, plan to use wireless broadband technology as a low-cost solution to providing broadband access to low-income residents.

Other cities see Wi-Fi as a great technology for building new public-safety networks and for connecting various buildings where city agencies are housed.

And still others believe that free Wi-Fi networks in public places could boost economic development by drawing more people to the city.

"The market is really huge," said Craig Mathias, an analyst with Farpoint Group of Ashland, Mass. "Most municipalities could find some use for Wi-Fi, whether that's for providing commercial broadband to residents or for government purposes. The door is wide open right now."

Cisco's entrance into the market is a sign of this opportunity. Until this point, small start-ups, such as Tropos Networks and BelAir Networks, have been supplying cities with equipment.

EarthLink, which won the bid to build Philadelphia's network, is using equipment from Tropos, and so are 249 other customers, including the city of Anaheim, Calif.

"We've already been in this market for five years," said Ron Sege, CEO of Tropos. "Cisco will have to go through that entire learning curve. It takes time, even if you are Cisco. You can't buy experience."

Cisco's Cohen said he is ready to take on the start-ups. The company didn't compete in the Philadelphia bidding process because its technology wasn't ready at the time, he said.

But the company is competing for the San Francisco contract. And Cisco has already managed to rack up nearly a dozen wins of its own, including deployments in Dayton, Ohio, and Lebanon, Ore.

"For a while, the start-ups have been the only alternative for communities building Wi-Fi networks," Cohen said. "But now we're here."