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Finally! Great Wi-Fi at Big Events

Today, you may be able to walk into in a convention hall, or university classroom, or baseball park and connect your mobile device.  Maybe.  But you’re likely competing for that connection with all the people around you.   Can you join an online conversation while attending  a large class at school?  Can you view a live stream of the keynote address while sitting in a convention hall, or see the homerun hit while in line at the beer stand?

Today, chances are the answer is no.  But that’s changing.

The reason that the answer is no, today, is that you’re sharing a finite cellular or Wi-Fi connection with all your fellow consumers in that train, convention or stadium.  If you’ve got 50,000 fans, and off-the-shelf access points with “floodlight-like” unidirectional coverage areas, you’re likely sharing your one AP with 1000 other people!  And if you simply put more of those APs in, the overlapping airwaves would all be competing for the same limited number of Wi-Fi channels.  And when that happens, performance gets much, much worse.

But luckily, Cisco is announcing a brand new solution that addresses this issue, called Cisco Connected Stadium Wi-Fi, and it’s debuting in the Sporting Kansas City stadium.  We’ve got the new Aironet 3500p access point with a very special antenna with a directional, “spotlight-like” coverage pattern.  This means each AP has minimal interference with the AP next to it, and is shared by fewer fans.  Everyone gets a bigger piece of the pie – and therefore more predictable levels of performance to run cool new video apps.  Translation:  twice as much video-viewing, iPad-carrying  performance for you and me!

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CleanAir: “Open for Government Business”

Inclusion in some government lists may not be such a good thing… for example, the government “no fly list” could be a bummer as you board your flight on your next family vacation. Yet, other government lists can make or break you when it comes to doing business with the Federal Government. Last week, the award winning Cisco CleanAir technology was placed on the all important DoD Unified Capabilities APPROVED PRODUCT LIST (DoD UC/APL). The DoD APL happens to be the official product list that DoD agencies are required to work from when making new acquisitions for network equipment such as routers, switches, WLAN, voice, video etc. With the latest Cisco DoD APL certification, the Cisco CleanAir 3500 Series Access Point becomes the first DoD approved product that supports “built-in” system level spectrum intelligence in support of mission critical wireless networks.

In some ways, the DoD APL is like an exclusive club for a select group of IT vendors –either you are a club member or you stand outside the gate. The process to get products listed on the APL is no cakewalk. First, even before products can be considered for the APL process, the products must meet a series of stringent DoD requirements and certifications such as DISA STIGS, FIPS & Common Criteria. Next, a DoD sponsor must agree to represent the vendor’s products throughout the APL certification process. The actual certification process itself involves several months of rigorous interoperability and Information Assurance compliance testing.

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Why no Wi-Fi at Fenway? – Missed Opportunity to Show Off

It is true I have become so dependent on having wireless access everywhere, that when I don’t have it I feel completely disconnected and no longer know how to socialize with my friends. Last Sunday I went to my beloved Fenway Park, one of the oldest baseball parks in America, and its age is showing.

Let me explain. For Father’s day I took my two-year-old son to Fenway Park for the first time, a pinnacle in any Boston Father’s life. To my surprise the opening ceremony included the new “Stanley Cup Champion Boston Bruins” driving around the park in the locally famous “Duck boats”. A Duck Boat is an amphibious vehicle used to tour Boston on the road and in the Charles River. But over the last 11 years their secondary purpose has been to support the parades of Boston and New England’s championship teams.

Now one thing you need to know is I am NOT a Hockey fan, but I have several friends who live and die by the Boston Bruins. Many of them went to the celebration parade the day before and couldn’t get closer than 20 yards from the Stanley cup. And here I was about 15 feet from it. Here is my view.

So there I am with my phone snapping pictures away and generating some really thought provoking e-mails about how my friends are missing out on an opportunity of a lifetime and I WAS THERE!!!

I sat in the stands, expecting the jealous responses I was bound to get (some not fit for publication!), but one thing stood in my way. Poor cellular network coverage and no Wi-Fi! Boston is notorious for having patchy cell coverage, and when an open wireless network wasn’t available my plans were foiled. I appreciate that the Red Sox management wants to maintain the old-time feel of baseball, but it’s times like these I realize just how dependent we all are on being connected. While sharing a moment with my friends may not be the most important use of the network, the ability to share them is powerful. If for nothing else than to support a dedicated fan, maybe Fenway should look into our Connected Stadium solution!

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Bringing the Cellular Roaming Experience to Wi-Fi

Today marked an exciting milestone in the continuing convergence of Wireless LAN (Wi-Fi) and cellular technologies as the Wireless Broadband Association (WBA) and the Wi-Fi Alliance (WFA) co-announced  that the industry’s first HotSpot 2.0 (HS 2.0) trials are scheduled for later this summer and the HS2.0 certification test beds will be available in mid 2012.  HS 2.0  is an industry initiative to develop standards-based interoperable Wi-Fi authentication and handoff.  In a nutshell, this enables a seamless handoff between cellular and Wi-Fi networks that allows mobile handset users to roam between the two networks without the need for additional authentication — much as you experience roaming between cellular networks while using your cell phone.

Industry organizations and standards bodies working on the HS 2.0 initiative include the WFA, focused on interoperability; the WBA, the industry group organizing the field trials; and the Global System for Mobile Communications Alliance (GSMA) that ensures the HotSpot 2.0 spec is aligned with the 3GPP framework.

Cisco is a strong supporter of the HS 2.0 initiative and is participating in the upcoming trials with its SP Wi-Fi Carrier Solution.  I will continue to provide updates as we move forward with this timely and critical initiative. In the meantime, take a look at this white paper, “The Future of Hotspots: Making Wi-Fi as Secure and Easy to Use as Cellular,”  which explains the technology behind HotSpot 2.0. 

Sarita Kincaid
skincaid@cisco.com
Twitter: @saritakAR

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Increasing Your Network Tolerance

As organizations look to improve operations through centralized control, they often need to take into account what would happen if an area of the network fails. In many cases, having a centralized controller-based wireless architecture in organizations with multiple branch offices has prompted the question, “What happens if the WAN is slow, or even worse, goes down?”

Many organizations have been reluctant to implement a centralized wireless controller located in the data center or private cloud due to this concern. Without centralized control, these organizations have two deployment strategies available to them:

  • Implement wireless controllers at each branch site. This approach is perfectly fine for an organization with many Access Points per branch, or those that require high throughput for applications such as Video. However, many branches only require a few Access Points per location or require simple applications such as bar-code scanning and printing. For these organizations, local controllers become less cost effective, with the capital expense becoming prohibitive.
  • Implement access points running in autonomous mode. This approach eliminates the benefits of having any kind of centralized control such as the ability to centrally configure wireless policy and security setting on access points, WIPS capabilities and advanced mobility services like CleanAir, leaving the branch vulnerable and opening the corporate network to attacks.

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