802.11n wireless gear to shine at Interop

Aerohive, Aruba, Meru, Ruckus and Trapeze all get into the act

Wireless LAN vendors are unveiling at Interop Las Vegas next week a slew of draft 2 IEEE 802.11n access points, controllers and management features aimed at spurring enterprise adoption of the technology.

The new access points can vary widely in terms of the number of radios, which frequency bands are supported, their power requirements, and of course, price.

The new products reveal the unanticipated complexity that 11n is introducing to enterprise WLAN buying decisions and deployments. "It's getting more difficult to do an apples to apples comparison," says Paul DeBeasi, analyst with The Burton Group, a technology research firm.

The best example is the vendors' nearly unanimous claims to support power-over-Ethernet. Most (but not all) make various tweaks, shutting off or cutting back on certain services to reduce power demand. But the products being introduced at Interop show an array of still-developing techniques to make the access points use less power, or use it more efficiently, or both.

In almost every case, the 802.11n radios in these new products support two spatial streams, a 3x3 MIMO antenna configuration, and 40MHz channels, giving each radio a data rate of about 300Mbps, or 600Mbps total for a two-radio access point. In most cases, TCP throughput is about half of that, or somewhat more. Most have two Gigabit Ethernet ports, with support for one or more Power-over-Ethernet options.

Aerohive Networks is adding the first 802.11n access points to its "no-controller" WLAN architecture. Controller functions are distributed to the Hive access points, which work together to coordinate the WLAN activity. There are three new models, one for offices, one for industrial sites, and one with three radios for outdoor networks.

The products use an Aerohive technology called SmartPoE, which detects how much power a PoE switch is supplying to the access point. In most cases, according to company executives, the devices can run on a single 802.3af PoE connection. HiveAP 320 has a list price of US$1,300; the 340, of US$1,500; both are available in July. The 380 lists at US$3,000 and is scheduled to ship in the fourth quarter.

Aerohive also announced a rack-mounted GuestManager 1.0 appliance that lets an enterprise simply and quickly create and manage WLAN access for guests and visitors. GuestManager costs US$10,000.

Aruba Networks is releasing a pair of two-radio 802.11abg access points that can activate their 802.11n capability by means of a software key, and an additional fee to the vendor. The AP-124 has detachable, replaceable antennas; the antennas for the AP-125 are not removable. The base price for the 802.11abg device is about US$1,000; to activate 802.11n is another US$300 to $400 per device, depending on the number deployed. They are slated to ship this quarter.

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