Intel & Cisco Plan to Improve Wireless

By Eric Griffith

August 25, 2005

An extended partnership between the powerhouse companies will focus on enhancements for enterprise Wi-Fi.

Chip giant Intel and networking colossus Cisco aren't strangers, having worked together in the past on, among other things, the Cisco Compatible Extensions (CCX) program to better hook CCX-using laptops to Cisco WLAN infrastructure equipment. The city of Cleveland—the pilot city for Intel's Digital Communities Initiative—is using Cisco equipment, and working closely with Intel and IBM on the project.

Now the Intel/Cisco relationship looks stronger than ever, as evidenced by the fact that they've got their own joint Web site at CiscoIntelAlliance.com. And their relationship was strengthened again this week with announcements made at the Intel Developers Forum (IDF) in San Francisco.

The two are now working on what they call the Business Class Wireless Suite, a set of features that will appear in Cisco's Aironet access points and in laptops using Intel's Centrino Mobile platform for Wi-Fi access. The goal is "to enhance network robustness in the enterprise," according to Dave Hofer, director of marketing for Intel's Wireless Networking Group. That improved performance will be found in both data and voice.

One of the elements of the collaboration is an optimal AP selection technology. "Today, it's signal strength," says Hofer of the top criteria most client systems have for connecting to an AP. "We're looking for other factors: how loaded is the AP, for example. We'll make changes to the access point selection on the fly."

VoIP improvements will include better clarity for calls made using softphones running on Centrino-based laptops.

At this point, Hofer wouldn't speculate on whether the planned connection improvements might migrate out of the enterprise and into home networks (via, for example, Cisco subsidiary Linksys, which has also worked directly with Intel in the past). He admits that the VoIP capabilities they plan "could be useful in the home" as wireless VoIP gains there, but says that the optimal AP selection—which sounds similar to AutoCell technology—is not really meant for home networks, where there is usually only one access point.

All the features of Business Class Wireless will be built into the Cisco IOS software that runs on the Aironet line of products, and will be standard in future versions of CCX, which runs on several laptop brands, including Dell Inspirons and Latitudes, Fujitsu LifeBooks, IBM/Lenovo ThinkPads, and others.

The next version of Centrino, codenamed Napa, will also include the new connection features.

Hofer says to look for the upgrades and new products in early 2006.

The connection between the two companies doesn't end with wireless. Intel plans to join Cisco's Network Admission Control (NAC) program, part of the Cisco Self-Defending Network strategy that includes agent software to enforce network security policies. On the other end, Cisco will use Intel Active Management Technology (AMT), a chip-based method of protecting computers. The cross-licensing means Intel's AMT can be used by any third-party company that uses NAC. AMT and NAC compatibility should be live before the end of the year.

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