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After a yearlong hiatus, Cisco Systems Inc. is moving ahead with plans to add Wi-Fi capabilities to its router and switch products.

This summer the San Jose, Calif., networking company will introduce a WLAN (wireless LAN) radio module for its family of branch-office routers, said sources close to the company.

Cisco officials declined to comment on unannounced products, but, according to sources, the module will come in a version that supports 802.11a/b/g and in a version that supports 802.11b/g only. The module and its antennas will be sold separately as an upgrade or as a factory install for Cisco’s 18xx, 28xx and 38xx router lines.

“We would be very excited to use wireless modules in routers and switches, especially at our branch offices,” said Todd Dierksheide, senior network engineer at Sovereign Bank, a Cisco customer in Reading, Pa. “It would be easier to support than the current system of individual access points and should save money in maintenance.”

The module lends credence to Cisco’s previously stated wireless plans for its Ethernet boxes. In May, Cisco announced the Wireless LAN Services Module, code-named Screaming Eagle. WLSM is a Wi-Fi blade for the company’s Catalyst 6500 switches, and it competes with Wi-Fi switches from several startups. At the time of the WLSM launch, officials said additional modules for other switches would be forthcoming.

But some factors had industry observers doubting Screaming Eagle would fly. Cisco’s lack of new announcements, its recent declaration of intent to acquire WLAN switch startup Airespace Inc., and the subsequent announcement that wireless networking business unit leader Bill Rossi will start a six-month leave of absence from Cisco in early March.

Click here to read about Bill Rossi’s leave of absence.

Cisco announced in early February that Dave Leonard, vice president of engineering at Cisco, will take Rossi’s place. But sources close to Airespace and Cisco said that Airespace CEO Brett Galloway will be sharing the post with Leonard once the acquisition is completed by early April.

Cisco, before deciding to buy the company, was losing some major accounts to Airespace, which offers superior management software, according to experts, and a ground-up wireless switch that manages thin access points from a central point.

Meanwhile, Cisco officials insist the Screaming Eagle strategy has never waned. “It’s been our strategy from the beginning to integrate wireless into our wired infrastructure,” said Ann Sun, senior manager of wireless and mobility at Cisco. “We remain committed to introducing similar functionality on additional platforms.”

Sources close to the company said Cisco will follow the router modules with modules that give wireless capability to Cisco’s low-end switches.

Analysts say that despite the success of startups such as Airespace and its main competitor, Aruba Wireless Networks Inc., there is a definite place for Cisco’s module strategy—especially in branch offices that need a WAN connection.

“Branch offices with more than five employees and midsize enterprises will require a WAN port that can support a T-1/T-3 or E-1/E-3 connection,” said Rachna Ahlawat, an analyst at Gartner Inc., also in San Jose. “None of the wireless LAN [switch] vendors have a [T- or E-carrier] WAN port in their box today. Some vendors have introduced [small office/home office] routers with a DSL or cable as a WAN port, but this is not enough for branch offices.”

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