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Aruba Networks latest to unveil 802.11ac access points

John Cox | May 22, 2013
Joins other WLAN vendors ushering in the "gigabit Wi-Fi" enterprise


Aruba Networks became the latest company to announce Wi-Fi access points that can support over 1Gbps throughput, at the cellular industry's CTIA show in Las Vegas this week.

The Aruba products promise, under the right conditions, Wi-Fi data rates of up 1.7Gbps (and if the client has corresponding Wi-Fi feature from silicon-maker Broadcom, up to 1.9Gbps). And a new feature called ClientMatch lets the Wi-Fi access point, finally, push a Wi-Fi client to an access point with a better signal.

The pace of 11ac introductions, and innovations, is accelerating. In March, Ubiquiti Networks released enterprise-class, 11ac access points aimed at small to mid-sized organizations. The new Unifi AP-AC is a dual-radio device, with an 11ac data rate of 1.3Gbps in the 5-GHz band, and an 11n data rate of 450Mbps in 2.4GHz. One of its most astonishing features is its price: $299.

Chief Marketing Officer David Hsieh makes the pitch that enterprises moving to or expanding 11n networks will conclude it's cheaper to go with 11ac now, rather than spend capital on improving 11n and then in two or three years making another capital outlay to upgrade that network to 11ac. "It's the first Wi-Fi technology that could replace wired infrastructure everywhere except in the data center," he says. "All wireless clients, even the even most demanding such as high-bandwidth video and low-latency VoIP, could rely on 11ac Wi-Fi."

The new Unifi access points come with a major upgrade to the vendor's controller software, which runs on a PC or in the cloud as hosted service. One new feature is what Ubiquiti calls Zero Handoff Roaming (ZHR), which behind the scenes makes it easier and faster for Wi-Fi clients to shift from one access point to another. The APs "talk among themselves" about when and how to handoff clients. The client doesn't have to re-authenticate and negotiate a new connection, which can often take seconds and create problems for real-time applications like video and VoIP. All these administrative tasks are handled behind the scenes.

In addition, the ZHR code lets the access point view connectivity from the client's perspective: it can calculate the client's sending strength, which may be much weaker than the AP's sending strength. In such situations, a client can receive from the AP but can't send to it, says Hsieh. With Zero Handoff Roaming, the AP can shuffle the client to a stronger connection via a neighboring AP.

The second new feature is multi-site management: one controller can now manage multiple Ubiquiti WLANs at different sites, giving administrators both an overall view of network health, as well as the ability to drill down into site-specific details.


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