May 22, 2007 1:57 PM PDT

Cisco aims for mobility in workforces

Cisco Systems is striking partnerships to help bring mobility to companies' workforce and customer base.

On Tuesday, the company announced several new products designed to provide mobile solutions for specific markets such as health care and retail. Cisco used pieces of its own technology as well as those from other companies to tailor products for those industries.

For example, the Location Solution designed for the health care industry is a combination of Cisco's Unified Wireless Network software and Wi-Fi tags, which track business assets and gather related telemetric information such as temperature, battery power, and humidity. Cisco collaborated with AeroScout and WhereNet, which developed the technology that wirelessly monitors passageways and associated tags.

When a tagged item moves through a monitored area, an alarm is triggered, notifying administrators that a crash cart or other piece of equipment has been moved to an unauthorized area. This helps hospitals keep track of expensive equipment.

The In-Store Mobility Solution designed for the retail market combines unified communications and Cisco's Wi-Fi network technology to create a wireless network in stores that can be used by employees, suppliers and customers anywhere in a store. Retailers can outfit shopping carts with wireless devices that allow them to push promotions to customers while they shop. The wirelessly connected devices can also be useful for shoppers, who can use them to ask questions instead of finding a store clerk.

And finally, Cisco created the First Mile Wireless solution for the oil and gas industry. The wireless network product is used to connect drilling sites back to corporate headquarters. The product is composed of Cisco's 1500 Series wireless "mesh" access points that have been environmentally hardened--because of the harsh conditions in the oil fields--a wireless network management system, and radios from other companies used to backhaul traffic via Wi-Fi, WiMax and satellite.

The new products and the work that went into building them is an example of how Cisco is shifting its wireless strategy to focus more on mobility.

"What we're trying to do is help recreate the rich business experience workers have in the workplace on mobile devices," said Alan Cohen, director of the Wireless Mobility Business group at Cisco.

Cisco's focus on mobility comes at a time when most businesses lack long-term mobile IT strategies. This means that many corporate users aren't able to access a full suite of applications that could make them more productive while they're away from the office.

Cisco took a small step toward providing more mobility to workers in March when it announced it would make its own Unified Communications software available on mobile devices. Using this application, workers could view voice mails in their mobile e-mail, get full access to the company directory, and even see which colleagues were online, all from their mobile device.

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