802.11n starts its wireless stress test at university

A zone of 11n access points sets new expectations for WLAN performance

Another problem has been finding, installing and trouble-shooting up-to-date device drivers for legacy Microsoft Windows notebooks. "We're going from a very homogenous client environment, with one PCMCIA card and one set of drivers, to a very heterogeneous one," says Boland. "We want any of our students, with any device, to be able to access the wireless net."

A few students have brought their own notebooks with an embedded 11n adapter. And more are expected, in the form of 11n plug-in cards or USB form factors. The college has ordered samples of such adapters for testing, and anticipates more USB 11n adapters being available from vendors soon.

The added capacity of the 11n (and other) access points is being optimized by Meru's virtual cell architecture, which among other things will balance student wireless connections among a group of neighboring access points. "We chose Meru in part because of that, so we've been watching this closely," says Barber. "You can actually watch on the Meru management application and see 30 students in a big lecture hall with three access points being distributed evenly among the access points."

There are plenty of issues still to sort out as the deployment unfolds. One question is how the presence of legacy 11g or 11a clients on an 11n radio will affect the WLAN performance for 11n clients. Another issue is powering the 11n access points, which require roughly twice the power available in existing 802.3AF power-over-Ethernet systems to run the two 11n radios in the access point at the same time.

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