Cisco Wireless Review

Combines the mobility of wireless with the performance of wired networks


What is our primary use case?

Everything I do is generally command line and I use the gooey of the device. I also use a Cisco network assistant to manage the devices. I have a third-party monitor that checks to make sure everything's online — that's it. I don't have any kind of integrated solution where everything is captured within one piece of software.

I prioritize what buildings I can try to upgrade the access points from. I am looking to update my controllers because my controllers are older. They still function fine; I haven't needed to change them yet. I know eventually, they become end-of-life — that's when I'll have to switch them out.

I use Cisco wireless controllers, 2500s. I know they're pretty much going to be end-of-life soon, but I've been using them. They've been solid, I've had them for numerous years. That's what I use to manage those devices. My switches are pretty much a 3650s layer-three and they provide POE over POE plus over 40 access points to be online. It's a big network, but I keep everything in a very basic way. It's easily managed; it's just a very small department.

We're a school district, so every kid has a device. Every teacher has a device and everything is wireless. On a full school day, we can have up to 1,500 devices online at the same time. I try to make sure that everything is connected and that we have enough bandwidth. And if there's an issue that ever comes up, I always try to go there and evaluate it and correct it when needed. With the Cisco product that I've had, I've never had a lot of downtime. So I've been pretty happy with what they provide.

I want to purchase more because I want to update. Wireless standards are changing. You've got to go to WiFi 6, which is 802.11ax. That's in a few years. I don't need to do that yet because our devices won't accommodate that. Everything's still back on 802.11.ac. So there's no point, but in the future, maybe two, three years down the line, when we start getting new devices that accommodate WiFi 6, and I'm going to look for access points to be able to accommodate it as well.

What is most valuable?

The CleanAir features and the fast transition. They're probably the best things that I enjoy as well as just being able to put multiple SSIDs on those things and being able to segment my network that way. As for authentication, I use a RADIUS server, a third-party RADIUS server, for authentication on the wireless SSIDs.

What needs improvement?

I have nothing that's outstanding at this point that I think needs to be improved. Cisco has been solid so I don't have much to complain about. It's a little more money, however. I just configure it and it works for years, which is great. That's what I love about it.

I know Cisco has a Meraki brand, which uses a lot of cloud-based technology. I wouldn't mind if Cisco allowed their premiere devices to be able to have that cloud-based support as well, or cloud-based management. That would be a nice feature.

For how long have I used the solution?

I've been using this solution for over 15 years. 

What do I think about the stability of the solution?

The stability is fantastic. I can't complain. Not one bit.

What do I think about the scalability of the solution?

Scalability is nice. 

How are customer service and technical support?

We have SMARTnet contracts with Cisco. On occasion, I've actually called them for technical support, but most of the stuff I just kind of figured out on my own.

The technical support is great. They were very accommodating and if they didn't have the answer, they would get back to me or send me an email with some information that I can refer to. But I've never been left in a lurch where I was waiting an excessively long amount of time. They've always been quick to respond and they've been very courteous as well.

How was the initial setup?

For me, the initial setup is straightforward because I have everything in place. Each VLAN has a wireless controller. When I put Cisco's access point on, dynamically, it basically finds the controller, joins it, and then after joining it, I'll just log in and I'll make any configuration changes that I need to accommodate the area that it's working in.

For me, deployment takes a few days; I've been doing this long enough. If I ever have an issue, I always look it up. 

What about the implementation team?

I pretty much deployed it myself. I try to keep it simple, I don't make things complex. It makes it easier for me to manage it. A couple of times in the past we've had some outside help. A lot of that just had to do with the installation of something because it comes down to timing. Being a very small department, I don't always have the time to be able to put this stuff together. So sometimes it's just helpful to get someone outside to help us out.

What's my experience with pricing, setup cost, and licensing?

It's expensive because a lot of the controls come with licenses. A couple of my controls have 15 or 25 access point licenses. And if it's in a building that I need more, then I have to go out to a vendor and be able to purchase the add-on license and then pop it in. It's not bad putting a license in, it's just the biggest complaint I have about Cisco is the cost.

Right now there's no subscription. That's the other thing I like about it. We buy it and that's it. The only thing I purchase is the SMARTnet that allows me to do software upgrades for my equipment. I'm paying about $6,000 or $7,000 a year in SMARTnet contracts for that support. Basically, I use it more for the software updates that allow me to keep everything up to date.

What other advice do I have?

Like anything in life, if you're familiar with it, it's easy. Can it get complicated? Of course. But I would just say, just do your research. And make sure you count the cost too. There are two things that are in play here; do your research. Once you get on a comfort level, then you can proceed with it. It works. It's pretty solid. And then the cost. Make sure that if you've got to expand that you have the financial flexibility to be able to accommodate any expansion you need, if not, then you may want to turn to another solution that might be a little cheaper.

Overall, on a scale from one to ten, I would give this solution a rating of nine. 

**Disclosure: I am a real user, and this review is based on my own experience and opinions.
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