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Cisco extends network gear for RFID

The networking giant is diving into the RFID market with new software and services intended to help companies use their networks in place of RFID middleware.

Fulfilling promises made earlier this year, Cisco Systems Inc. has unveiled a number of new radio frequency identification (RFID) products and partnerships, setting the stage to enter yet another emerging market.

The San Jose, Calif.-based networking giant Tuesday announced the impending release of the Cisco AON for RFID Solution, a software extension for its Application-Oriented Networking (AON) data center switches and branch office wireless routers that embeds RFID middleware functions in the devices.

Cisco's intent, according to a press release, is to increase RFID simplicity and lower deployment costs by enabling network devices to capture RFID data, filter and aggregate data as necessary and offer application protocol bridging, in addition to providing security and content-based routing when sharing data with external business partners.

Interest in RFID technology, which uses microchip-sized wireless tags to track the whereabouts of anything from clothes to food to computer parts, has grown recently as more organizations learn how it can reduce supply chain expenses and tags cost of RFID has declined.

Additionally, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and the U.S. Department of Defense have championed the technology with aggressive timelines, mandating that their suppliers and/or partners implement RFID.

Taf Anthias, vice president and general manager of Cisco's AON business unit, told last month that RFID would be one of the technologies his group utilizes to enhance the network's ability to recognize and manage application data.

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Also as part of the announcement, Cisco said it would offer consulting services and implementation support. It has also partnered with RFID specialists ConnecTerra Inc. and PanGo Networks Inc. to ensure multivendor interoperability.

Marcus Torchia, a senior analyst with Boston-based research firm Yankee Group, said the announcement represents a logical move by the vendor, since it is capitalizing on its strengths in IP networking and 802.11-based equipment for the enterprise.

"When it comes to enabling the applications that run on the network, it's not just a safe move in the sense of incorporating active RFID and real-time location systems," Torchia said. "It's a prudent strategic move because it's a differentiator over their competition."

Torchia suggested that if Cisco's RFID initiative is successful in the early going, competitors will likely be forced to deliver similar functionality in their enterprise network equipment via new products or partnerships.

The Cisco AON for RFID Solution will be available in the U.S., Europe and Middle East next month for a list price of $16,250. Cisco's RFID consulting services are available immediately.

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