Cisco has been a follower in the WLAN space for some time. Something or other to do with not cannibalizing their LAN infrastructure business... Regardless, their wait and see approach has given birth to a number of start-ups who have fielded some excellent equipment that is not proprietary, strong in security, RF and roaming, and significantly less expensive than Cisco. True to form it seems, Cisco will be making an acquisition to catch up with the competition.
I've been saying it for months and months: It's been crystal clear to me that Cisco did not have an internal WLAN switch strategy, and has its biggest problems in dealing with issues that switches can solve, which is policy-based VLAN assignment for WLAN users across network segments. News.com reports that a deal may be in the work for Cisco to buy Airespace, which is the leading marketshare vendor among the startup switch makers with seven percent of the market. I've thought Airespace was a 100-percent Cisco target, and am just surprised its taken this long to hear about a deal firming up.
Cisco's intelligence is in the access point, which means that hand-offs are coordinated at the AP level, making VLAN roaming and other related issues pushed out to the edge or handled by Ethernet switches, which doesn't work very well for mobile users. Airespace handles the logical part of this in the switch: the AP is a radio with some intelligence, but it's not the smartest part of the network.
Cisco has obviated some of its shortcomings in this area--and, of course, it has massive strengths in other areas--by turning WLSE, its centralized management tool, into as much of a switch-like controller for signal strength and other factors as it can.
Update: Om Malik has more commentary on this issue, noting that Airespace may rack up (pun intended) a large deal to upgrade Microsoft's network, and that Juniper might also be interested in acquiring Airespace. It's like the late 1990s, except with actual customers and revenue. [Wi-Fi Networking News]
Airespace has some great technology. So do Aruba, Trapeze, and to a lesser extent, Chantry Networks. Symbol is in there too, price-wise, but most of their management features require a Symbol client radio. All of these vendors have designated health care as a target market.
If I were looking for an 802.11 a/b/g wireless infrastructure for my hospital, I would avoid Cisco (due to proprietary features) and put Symbol near the bottom of my list (same reason, but to a lesser extent). Why you ask, move away from your "gold standard" Cisco? One word, embeddedradios (that's one word). Medical devices with 802.11 a/b/g embedded come with one radio vendor's don't have the luxury of meeting FDA regulatory requirements with multiple radio cards. And the smart one's won't be using off the shelf radios, because they have a life cycle of about 6 months. So, welcome to the heterogeneous WLAN/radio world!