…for wireless at least (attribution: Ron Tomlin).

Cisco is the market leader for wireless and probably always will be. But that doesn’t make it right.

They’ve established this market position not because of their profound product vision but because of their ginormous size.

Up to now, Cisco has been able to bolt on Wi-Fi to big deals at rock bottom prices – effectively locking out competitors. To them selling wireless has been like selling a scarf to a woman who has just purchased a complete wardrobe.

The point is that wireless can no longer be considered an afterthought. And Cisco wireless, across nearly every category, is an afterthought. Here’s an unfair comparison across different product lines for you not to believe.

The networked world is going through a major paradigm shift (yeah we hate the term too) that will profoundly affect infrastructure architecture. Wi-Fi is the new enterprise edge and infrastructures will be built around user mobility, not the other way around (like it has been).

Wireless mobile networking and cloud computing (ie. using virtual private CDNs to eliminate data centers and optimize access) is fundamentally changing traditional enterprise network architecture. Aruba is one of the few wireless companies that have recognized this trend and is trying to do something about it.

Still, neither CSCO or ARUN do much, if anything, to improve the delivery of Wi-Fi services to client devices relative to optimizing radio performance. Smarter approaches to RF optimization in the form of dynamic beamforming solve some of the CORE Wi-Fi challenges facing the industry:

  • Virtually eliminating co-channel interference
  • Enabling more predicable performance by “steering” signals over the highest performing paths and
  • Doubling the effective footprint (coverage area) of an AP (read: fewer APs give better performance).

These are HUGE issues especially given Wi-Fi’s massive appeal and enormous install base not to mention the fact that it is quickly becoming the defacto standard for getting into an out of a whole new generation of devices (eg. iPads, iEverything). There’s now an overwhelming desire for Wi-Fi to become the primary means of network access for enterprise users with the wired network providing vanilla transport. But this won’t happen until Wi-Fi reliability issues are addressed.

And companies are no longer willing to settle for wireless that’s just good enough, they are demanding “wired-like wireless.” To deliver this, you MUST have as much control over the RF domain as possible.

For a large company, Cisco has been phenomenally aggressive in the wireless space (eg. buying Aironet, Airespace, etc.), canabalizing its own internal wireless developments. To Cisco’s credit, they have marketed their wireless products much better than they’ve built them. They’ve been very smart about recognizing advanced features such as chip-based beamforming (ClientLink) and, most recently, RF interference (CleanAir). Yet Cisco’s implementation of advanced features is like Microsoft’s – too little too late – while their products, in my very biased opinion, remain overpriced and underwhelming.