Update: Cisco announces CleanAir for Wi-Fi interference on new access points

Limited warranties on 802.11n products also offered

Cisco Systems Inc. today announced a new lineup of high-end wireless LAN access points with so-called CleanAir technology that gives network administrators the ability to monitor Wi-Fi interference from a variety of devices, such as microwave ovens, cordless phones or spycams.

The new 3500 series APs will range in price from $1,095 to $1,495, and they will go on sale in May, Cisco said.

In an apparent response to pressure from Hewlett Packard Co., Cisco also announced limited lifetime warranties on all of its 802.11n Wi-Fi access points, meaning they will be replaced at no cost if they fail.

Zeus Kerravala, an analyst at Yankee Group Research Inc., said Cisco must be feeling pressure from HP, which already offers warranties on networking products. "A warranty has obviously become a necessary component of this gear," Kerravala said.

Kerravala said the CleanAir technology will make Cisco unique in the Wi-Fi market, since the technology runs in hardware on the actual AP in an ASIC (Application Specific Integrated Circuit). Having that capability could improve Cisco's chances to sell the technology to more customers, since most Cisco Wi-Fi customers ordinarily choose Cisco if they already use the company's wired networking gear. Having an unusual feature in the APs might persuade a customer to buy Cisco wireless products exclusively, Kerravala said.

Aruba Networks has plans to ship a product that will compete with Cisco's CleanAir, but it won't be available until sometime in the third quarter, according to Craig Mathias, an analyst at Farpoint Group.

The CleanAir technology gives network administrators system-level information to detect, classify, locate and mitigate the impact of wireless interference, Cisco said. Motorola offers a similar capability, but only in a system software offering and not in faster ASICs, Kerravala said.

Fluke Networks also offers a Wi-Fi spectrum analyzer, but it is a stand-alone unit.

David Stiff, a Cisco product manager, said CleanAir offers detailed information that would allow an IT administrator to detect what type of device -- whether it's a microwave or a spycam -- is causing interference. Also, an AP that is receiving interference can be automatically moved to another wireless channel to avoid the interference.

Cisco said several universities are trying out CleanAir on new 3500 APs, including the University of South Florida, Purdue University and Oregon's Portland State University. Another beta tester, Telekom Austria, said in a statement that CleanAir helped it identify a number of devices causing interference in the 2.4 GHz band, including Bluetooth devices and microwave ovens.

"As Wi-Fi networks become more pervasive, interference can be serious," Mathias said.

Cisco said that 54% of 600 network managers in a recent survey reported that wireless interference has caused performance problems in their Wi-Fi networks.

Joe Rogers, network administrator at the University of South Florida, said the CleanAir beta went very well, using three APs in various offices. "The first thing I tried was firing up the microwave to see what the APs could do with that kind of interference," he said. "They classified it within 30 seconds, told me right where the microwave was on the floor, what channels were being affected by it and how much interference it was causing for the 802.11 clients."

Rogers said the university plans to upgrade its wireless network with 700 APs by August, all of them in the new Cisco 3500 series. All told, the university has 2,400 APs serving 40,000 students, with about 5,200 concurrent wireless users throughout a typical day.

Clayton Daffron, network architect at Portland State University, said the university will deploy CleanAir in student housing buildings, where there are frequent sources of interference, and also in offices shared with outside businesses where "more intelligent use" of spectrum is needed.

"The beta has gone very well for us and we're excited about this product," Daffron said.

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen, or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed. His e-mail address is mhamblen@computerworld.com.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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