Cisco is trying to clear the air. Actually, it's offering new access points with CleanAir technology so that companies can track down and ferret out interference to make their Wi-Fi networks perform better.

One of the big beefs early on with Wi-Fi deployments was the threat of interference in the unlicensed space. That projection seems to be coming to fruition, which is to say all kinds of consumer electronics are sharing the space. As more iPhones, iPads and Droids make their way into enterprises, their Wi-Fi connections are competing with cordless phones, cameras, Bluetooth devices and wireless speakers, says Chris Kozup, senior manager, Mobility Solutions at Cisco. "This is having an adverse effect on network performance," causing organizations to spend more on troubleshooting and even that's now always successful.

Cisco's CleanAir allows for visibility into the RF environment, taking a "magnifying glass" so to speak to the surrounding air quality, he says. The system then has the intelligence to optimize around the source of interference, making changes in the network configuration or channel allocation. For example, if the system detects a spycam, it can move around it rather than trying to eliminate the camera altogether.

Kozup says a recent Cisco survey of more than 600 U.S. companies found that 78 percent considered all or part of their wireless network to be mission-critical to their business operations. Yet the same group identified wireless interference as one of the top causes of wireless performance issues.

The company's Borderless Mobility solutions include the new Cisco Aironet 3500 Series 802.11n Access Points with CleanAir, which combines a patented Application-Specific Integrated Circuit (ASIC) in the access point with intelligence to detect, classify, locate and mitigate wireless interference.

Portland State University (PSU) has been using about 15 of the access points as part of a beta program. But the college plans to deploy them on a bigger scale this summer and hopes to use all CleanAir access points in residence halls, where the biggest impact is likely to be seen from microwaves and assorted other wireless devices. "We like people to have freedom to do what they want so long as it's not impacting others," and CleanAir allows for that, says Clayton Daffron, network architect and team manager at PSU.

Kozup says alternative solutions on the market like one from Motorola just use a standard Wi-Fi chipset and don't have the ability to get that "fine grain visibility" to make informed decisions.

The new products will be available in May. Pricing for the Cisco Aironet 3500 Series with CleanAir ranges from $1,095 to $1,495. Pricing starts at $995 for the Cisco Aironet 1260 Series (non-CleanAir) with external antennas, dual band and full 802.11n performance with standard Power over Ethernet.