If you keep up with the latest wireless LAN buzz, you know that the latest tech news regarding WLANs has to do with the numerous 802.11a products, which seem to be stealing the spotlight away from the widespread 802.11b devices. For those organizations rolling out wireless, the question has surely been asked, “a or b?” Cisco’s answer to this question is a rather simple one. With its new Cisco Aironet 1200 Series access point, the response is, “Why not both?”

Ready for growth
The central theme for Cisco’s 1200 AP is “investment protection and a smooth migration path to future high-speed wireless LAN technologies.” This is accomplished by its support for both the 2.4-GHz and 5-GHz radio spectrums used by the 802.11b and 802.11a technologies, respectively. A single 1200 Series access point can simultaneously accommodate both standard 802.11b clients and high-speed 802.11a clients. This equates to a continued return on investment of existing 802.11b implementations.

And we’re not just talking about 802.11a and 802.11b, either—this unit is also ready for 802.11g technology, which is also undoubtedly around the corner. Forward thinking is what I call it. How does Cisco do it? The modular design of the Aironet 1200 AP supports single- and dual-band configurations. Through a process of installing the appropriate PC car, the unit is field-upgradeable as requirements change and technologies evolve.

Ready for the enterprise
Many IT professionals responsible for the network infrastructure of enterprise environments rely on Cisco networking products and solutions to keep things running smoothly. As with its other network solutions, Cisco’s Aironet 1200 Series access point delivers a high level of reliability, security, and manageability.

The new access point is also both aesthetically pleasing and durable (see Figure A). The case is made of cast-aluminum and is durable enough for factories and warehouse wireless installations. The unit comes complete with an integrated mounting system for wall and ceiling mounting and built-in physical security for locking down the device using either notebook security cables or standard padlocks, a security feature heavily requested by organizations that suddenly found themselves a few access points shy of what they originally deployed.

Figure A

The Cisco Aironet 1200 Series supports both inline power over Ethernet and local power and leverages Cisco’s broad line of antennas. Security is always a concern with wireless, and Cisco addresses this with stronger WEP keys provided by Temporal Key Integrity Protocol (TKIP) enhancements and RADIUS accounting records for all authentication attempts. Table A further outlines the key features and benefits of the Aironet 1200 Series.

Table A
Feature Benefit
Modular platform for single- or dual-band operation Flexible, dual-band design protects existing investments in 802.11b technology and provides an easy migration path for emerging technologies such as 802.11a and 802.11g. Dual radios allow simultaneous operation of 2.4- and 5-GHz wireless networks.
Field-upgradeable radios The series takes advantage of existing 802.11b wireless infrastructure and clients and offers investment protection through a field-upgradeable card bus and mini-PCI radios. Standard 802.11b radios can be purchased to meet current needs, and an 802.11a module can be added as bandwidth requirements grow.
Industry-leading security, network management, and software feature set The Aironet 1200 Series supports 802.1X security with mutual authentication and dynamic encryption keys and management through SNMP, Telnet, and Web browsers. Features are fully compatible with existing Cisco Aironet 340 and 350 Series products.
Two separate locking mechanisms for the access point and radio cards Theft deterrence and investment protection are provided with built-in locking mechanisms. You can choose between off-the-shelf padlocks and laptop security cables, which ensure that access points and radios are secure.
Support for both inline power over Ethernet and local power The product may be powered over the Ethernet cable by Cisco line power-enabled switches, multiport midspan power panels, or single-port power injectors. It can also simply be plugged in to the electrical outlet where AC power is available.

Are you ready for the price tag?
With a price tag starting around $750, this is not a product priced for the small to medium size market. Add the cost of the recommended SMARTnet maintenance, optional power injector, and higher gain antenna, and you clearly have a wireless access point targeted toward the enterprise. Easily expect to pay around $1,200 for this access point and accessories.

Did I mention that it doesn’t automatically come with the 802.11a card? There will be an additional charge for the card when it is released. Although this AP solution is one of the priciest on the market today, remember that you are paying for Cisco quality assurance and performance. In the end, your budget and your enterprise-level technology needs will be the deciding factors as to whether this product fits in your organization.

Final analysis
Enterprises looking to maximize their return on investment for their current 802.11b infrastructure while taking advantage of future wireless technologies should definitely consider the new Cisco 1200 Series access point. Organizations willing to pay a little extra can now easily resolve the issue of choosing between 802.11a and 802.11b. The Aironet 1200 AP offers the best of both worlds and allows them to interoperate.