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FEATURE

Space No Longer Final Frontier for Cisco Internet Gear

Cisco Mobile Access Router bringing standards-based IP communications to satellites

September 26, 2003

By Charles Waltner, News@Cisco

Cisco Systems is taking its Internet routers to the next level...literally.

A satellite, built and operated by Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd., Guildford, England, will be part of a "constellation" of five low earth orbit-"LEO"-satellites dedicated to providing highly refined, multi-spectral images of the earth's environment for international disaster relief. The project is sponsored and coordinated by organizations from Algeria, China, Nigeria, Turkey, and the United Kingdom.

This project marks the first time a piece of Cisco's commercial Internet equipment has been brought into space. Though IP communications have traveled through space in the past, they have not traveled through commercial routers onboard satellites. The effort is part of a broad test of the capabilities and limits of standards-based, commercially produced data networking equipment in space.

Rick Sanford, the director of the Cisco Global Space Initiatives group, says the venture's ultimate aim is to help lower the cost of building satellites while improving their communications capabilities with already established data networks on earth, particularly ones using Internet-based communications.

"Typically, satellites are a ground-up effort," Sanford says. "The routers used in the past had to be custom-built. We want to see if we can reduce the cost of satellite communications by applying the same open standards and commercially produced equipment to satellites that have been used to build the Internet."

Sanford emphasizes that this endeavor is only a test. The satellite will have a primary communications system, while the Cisco 3200 Mobile Access Router will only be used for experiments.

Though the Cisco 3200 provides unprecedented ruggedness relative to other commercially-produced data routers and has already passed all durability benchmarks required for launching into space, the venture will find out just how well the device can perform under such unique conditions.

Certainly, of all commercially available routers on the market, the Cisco 3200 Mobile Access Router is the best one for the job. The revolutionary Cisco 3200 is the industry's first full-featured, IP-based router for mobile data communications. It uses the same Cisco IOS(R) software that runs Cisco's premier routers for Internet protocol (IP) communications, but in a highly compact, lightweight, energy efficient and extremely durable design. It offers seamless connectivity for data, voice and video, independent of location or movement. The innovative device provides full data router capabilities while being able to run communications over a wide variety of wireless links. About the size of a deck of cards, the Cisco 3200 only uses 10 watts of power from a battery or other alternative source.

Cisco designed the 3200 Mobile Access Router for use in moving vehicles as a means to coordinate communications among various devices within a vehicle while at all times maintaining a communications link with outside networks as the vehicle travels, more or less creating a mobile local area network (LAN). Police, military, auto manufacturers, and shipping services are just some of the organizations taking an interest in this revolutionary device.

The flight into space will likely be the biggest challenge yet for the Cisco Mobile Access Router. Sanford says Cisco and Surrey Satellite Technology plan to publish the results of the performance and capabilities tests they will place on the device, in hopes of fostering better and more affordable satellite communications.

"This is really the first attempt to replicate a terrestrial IP network in space so we will be asking a lot of questions about where the strengths and weaknesses of commercial, standards-based equipment are," Sanford says. "But like any explorer, we are eager to see what we will find."

Charles Waltner is a freelance journalist based in Oakland, Calif.

 
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