Controller based WiFi made easy (and cheaper) with Cisco Mobility Express

We’re seeing a greater shift now more than ever toward wireless networking due to many factors:

  • Laptops sacrificing Ethernet jacks in favour of maintaining a slim form factor
  • Increases in IoT and BYOD where the demand for access to the network for users who traditionally only had their corporate laptop has now stretched to their mobile, tablet and other gadgets and structured cabling cannot keep up
  • Massive leaps in 802.11 standards bringing huge benefits including throughput and the number of devices able to connect to a single access point

This is an area where Cisco have been a big player for some time however setting up a whole wireless LAN can be somewhat time consuming unless you’re a seasoned veteran as numerous options and a clunky interface could really slow things down. Instead Cisco have come up with Mobility Express which they market as being able to be setup in less than 10 minutes and can provide a WLAN controller function for up to 25 APs with no additional licencing over what you pay for the AP itself. You do however need to ensure the SKU for the WAP that will be a controller has a “C” at the end e.g. AIR AP1832I-E-K9C which indicates it’ll ship with the controller capable firmware. The firmware is also available if you have a SmartNet subscription. Supported models for the controller function are below:

Cisco 1850 Series
Cisco 1830 Series
Cisco 1540 Series
Cisco 1560 Series
Cisco 1815i
Cisco 1815m
Cisco 1815w
Cisco 2800 Series
Cisco 3800 series

Other access points can then act as a subordinate to the controller with supported models below:

Cisco 700i – AIR-CAP702I-x-K9
Cisco 700w – AIR-CAP702W-x-K9
Cisco 1540 series
Cisco 1560 series
Cisco 1600I / 1850E – AIR-CAP1602I-x-K9 / AIR-CAP1602E-x-K9 respectively
Cisco 1700 – AIR-CAP1702I-x-K9
Cisco 1815i / 1815m / 1815w
Cisco 1832I / 1852I / 1852E – AIR-AP1832I-x-K9C / AIR-AP1852I-x-K9CAIR-AP1852E-x-K9C respectively
Cisco 2600 – AIR-CAP2602I-x-K9C / AIR-CAP2602E-x-K9C
Cisco 2700 – AIR-CAP2702I-x-K9C / AIR-CAP2702E-x-K9C
Cisco 2800 Series
Cisco 3600 – AIR-CAP3602I-x-K9C / AIR-CAP3602E-x-K9C
Cisco 3700 – AIR-CAP3702I-x-K9C / AIR-CAP3702E-x-K9C
Cisco 3800 Series

Another bonus is that the controller function will reside on a compatible access point however if that goes down for any reason and another compatible access point is available then the controller function (albeit with some delay) will migrate to that unit.

After provisioning through the app you can then browse to the HTTPS page for the controller IP you setup and finalise any settings such as SNMP etc. Simply connect the first WAP to a PoE switch and connect a phone running the Cisco Wireless app to the “CiscoAirProvision” SSID. You will need a DHCP server and in my experience Internet access so that NTP can operate to prevent certificate errors. Once connected through the app you can choose basic settings including a static management IP, SSIDs and so on.

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