February 24, 2003 1:52 PM PST

Cisco lets chipmakers in on Wi-Fi tech

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Cisco Systems announced Monday that it will share key technology with chipmakers and computer companies to help drive the use of wireless networks within corporations.

The network equipment maker said it would license software designed to improve the security and range of wireless networks that use Wi-Fi technology--the reigning standard among wireless technologies that has grown in popularity among consumers in the past year. Corporations, however, have been slow to adopt the new technology out of security concerns.

Cisco hopes that by working closely with the leading semiconductor companies and computer makers, it can assuage such concerns.

It is collaborating with chipmakers that together represent more than 90 percent of the client reference design market, including Intel, Texas Instruments and Atheros. Computer makers such as IBM and Hewlett-Packard said they would come out later this year with new laptops that use the improved chips. Other companies participating in the program include Agere Systems, Atmel, Intersil and Marvell.

By participating in the "Cisco Compatible" extension program, the companies aim to speed the introduction of innovations to their corporate customers. The program concentrates on improving security, defenses against rogue access and voice and management capabilities of wireless networks.

Right now, the group is working on version 2.0 of its jointly developed software. The upgrade will be available to companies in 60 to 90 days and will be available to customers in the second quarter, said Bill Rossi, vice president and general manager of Cisco's Wireless Networking Business Unit.

"We want to get (innovations) to market without the delays that occur in the IEEE," said Rossi, referring to the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, an industry body that often sets standards.

"This is still an immature market...We will bring (innovations) to the standard bodies for consideration, once they are proven to work, so they can be added to standards later," Rossi said, adding that he expects the group to disband once the technology moves beyond its infancy.

Meanwhile, the group is continuing to look for other silicon makers to work with and will announce four or five other partners as well as new products soon, he said.

All the gear and devices created through the partnership will be compatible with Cisco network equipment, a company representative said. Once a new product's compatibility with Cisco's networking gear has been confirmed, Cisco will grant it the right to bear a "Cisco Compatible" logo--mimicking the successful "Intel Inside" branding campaign.

A third party, Keylabs, will test the interoperability of Cisco gear with chips from its partners, Rossi said.

SG Cowen Securities analyst Christin Armacost sees potential in Cisco's program.

"We believe (Cisco's) somewhat unusual move will help stimulate the corporate WLAN (wireless local area network) market, which has been slow to adopt the technology due to lack of standards and security issues," Armacost said in a report Monday.

The volume of Wi-Fi products adopted by the corporate market is expected to have risen 65 percent to 11.6 million units in 2002, compared with 2001, according to a recent report by market researcher In-Stat/MDR. The security of wireless networks remains the most debated topic within business circles, the report noted.

News.com's Richard Shim contributed to this report.

 

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