This month marks an impressive milestone for Cisco: we shipped our 10 millionth enterprise access point. To remind you how we got here, here’s a quick walk through our wireless history…
Cisco shipped its first wireless access point in 1999, when it acquired Aironet. At that time, wireless access was limited to hotspots in conference rooms, lobbies, coffee shops and other areas where people tend to congregate. (Remember that? I used to have a little device on my keychain that helped me find wireless hotspots.) Access points operated standalone, loosely grouped through management software, and most of us plugged a PCMCIA card into our laptops to connect wirelessly. Those were the 802.11b days.
The obvious benefit of connecting without wires caught on, laptops began to ship with native Wi-Fi capability, and wireless deployments expanded to cover whole buildings. This expansion required more capacity in the form of 802.11g in 2003, and a more centralized approach to managing and controlling the hundreds of access points installed in a building. Wireless controllers grew in popularity, allowing IT administrators to more easily keep their APs on a consistent firmware version, control security, and regulate spectrum usage. We discovered security holes in Wi-Fi, and Cisco pioneered the CCX program with every major silicon vendor to harden client devices. This evolved into the WPA standards in use today.
In 2009, the 802.11n standard was ratified, bringing 9x the bandwidth and performance to Wi-Fi, enabling us to access video and voice over wireless, and we started expecting our wireless devices to perform more like wired devices. Rich media, here we come! Innovations like VideoStream from Cisco helped Wi-Fi intelligently handle multicast video with perfect performance, and we pushed fast roaming support into the 802.11r standard as well. With this much power, Wi-Fi networks really hit mainstream and organizations looked at rolling out business-critical applications over wireless.
The remaining challenge was ensuring that performance stayed rock solid in an unlicensed spectrum subject to all kinds of consumer device interference. So in 2010, the same year Cisco shipped its 1 millionth .11n access point, we also delivered a ground-breaking new system to detect, classify and remediate problems caused by wireless interference: CleanAir technology, the industry’s only silicon-based spectrum management system. This cleared the way to truly expecting wireless networks to operate with the performance and reliability of a wired network. The CleanAir access point, Aironet 3500 series, sold more units, faster, than any other access point in Cisco history. Clearly, our customers knew the importance of a reliable wireless network.
Which brings us to 2011. We recently announced a new line of services-rich controllers, a centralized identity management system, and a wired/wireless network management platform for the access layer. The upgrade in operational tools helps our IT managers support the onslaught of mobile devices pouring onto the network without adding extra staff – and the result is an affirmation of Cisco innovation: this month we shipped our 10 millionth enterprise access point! Who else can say that???