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Next generation wireless LAN capabilities

This tip covers an exciting new development in wireless technology -- location services.

Wireless LAN technology continues to evolve, expand and grow at a phenomenal rate. The reason behind this is that WLAN technology makes sense. As more and more organizations adopt wireless technology, the demand for new and enhanced services grows. This generates research and development which then leads to new products and new capabilities.

In this tip we're going to cover an exciting new development in wireless technology called location services. Location services refer to the ability to track people or objects utilizing Radio Frequency Identification (RFID). An RFID solution is one in which RFID tags are placed on items that emits radio frequencies that can be located and tracked via a location system. RFID location systems have been in place for quite a while but are just now gaining traction within the industry as the technology evolves and companies find real world use for the technology.

There are several key drivers that are creating a demand for this technology. First and foremost is the proliferation of wireless LAN solutions in many vertical markets. Second, is the widespread adoption of wireless technology in the health care arena. Many hospitals are driving the demand for RFID. RFID solutions have been around for quite some time, but mainly in the manufacturing world, where assets are tracked from an inventory control perspective. Hospital environments are a unique in that there are a lot of moving assets and people. Hospitals are a perfect environment for location services via RFID because they exhibit the following characteristics:

  • Many moving assets (wheelchairs, IV poles, room to room equipment, etc.)
  • Theft and misplacing of said assets
  • Large campuses
  • Reliance on location of said assets
  • Inefficient mechanisms for tracking said assets
  • Patients moving all over the hospital, required assets

These factors make the hospital environments a key driver for location services as the technology makes it feasible to track and locate these assets and resources via the RFID tags worn or attached to devices.

There are many vendors that tout support for RFID location service solutions in piece or part, but I want to discuss Cisco's newest release, the 2700 series wireless location appliance. This product was released in July of this year (2005) as a complement to Cisco's wireless portfolio that has just been re-introduced with the AireSpace technology. The key advantage to Cisco's solution is that it is integrated into the WLAN environment. To date most location service solutions required a separate infrastructure focused solely on RFID tag location and tracking. Several vendors had touted the ability to integrated RFID location, but the solutions were based on 802.11b technology which is rapidly being replaced with 802.11 a/g. The integration of the location services into the existing infrastructure with the thin client Cisco AP's makes this a truly scalable and viable technology. Future advancements will push the RFID tracking capabilities out onto Cisco modular routers and switches. This will allow location and tracking of devices and assets outside of a WLAN installation.

This technology is very cheap and quite easy to implement within the current Cisco framework of WLAN product sets. It will only get better as it evolves. For more information on Cisco's 2700 series platform go to:


About the author: Robbie Harrell (CCIE#3873) is the National Practice Lead for Advanced Infrastructure Solutions for SBC Communications. He has over 10 years of experience providing strategic, business, and technical consulting services to clients. Robbie resides in Atlanta, and is a graduate of Clemson University. His background includes positions as a Principal Architect at International Network Services, Lucent, Frontway and Callisma.

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