INTEROP - Vendors spotlight 11n WLANs for the enterprise

Enterprise access points based on IEEE 802.11n will offer 100Mbps to 200Mbps throughput

Three wireless LAN vendors are unveiling at Interop Las Vegas this week enterprise access points that will offer 100Mbps to 200Mbps throughput, shared among the Wi-Fi clients that connect to it.

All three, from Colubris, Ruckus, and Trapeze, are based on the IEEE 802.11n draft 2 standard.

Colubris plans to offer a two-radio access point, the Multiservice Access Point (MAP)-625. One radio is intended to support existing 802.11a, b, and g clients. The second radio, based on Atheros silicon, support the 11n draft 2 standard.

This approach lets enterprise users start adding 11n support into the WLAN infrastructure, which will still support existing wireless clients, until they, too, are outfitted with an 11n adapter, according to Carl Blume, Colubris' director of strategic marketing.

And, with existing clients on a dedicated radio, they won't throttle down the 11n connection. The 11n access point can detect, for example, an 11b client trying to connect with it, says Roger Sands, the company's vice president of engineering. When it does, the 11n chipset will "jump down" to the 11Mbps data rate which is the maximum for an 11b. A further performance hit follows if that 11b client is also an active talker, says Sands. "He's consuming more time on the access point, so more of the available [11n] bandwidth is being eaten up at the lower rate," he says.

The MAP-625 11n radio will deliver useable throughput of 100Mbps minimum, says Sands, with the 11abg radio adding about another 24Mbps. It has one Gigabit Ethernet port, which means the MAP-625 will need to connect to a Gigabit port on the nearest LAN edge switch.

For enterprise nets with Gigabit edge switches, the impact of 11n will be minimal. But closer to the network core, as a growing amount of 11n traffic is aggregated, then some LAN switches may have to be upgraded.

But, according to Sands, the new access point will work with existing Colubris WLAN controllers, without requiring any software or hardware changes to these centralized boxes. That's partly because the controllers were designed with enough capacity, processing power, and memory to handle 11n, and partly because the Colubris access points can switch WLAN packets on their own, without routing all data packets through the controller.

Colubris also supports a local mesh protocol that lets one of the two radios be used as a wireless backhaul where it's too costly or too difficult to pull Ethernet cable to a switch.

The MAP-625 will ship in Fall, 2007, with a list price of US$999, about 30 percent more than the existing dual-radio 11abg access point. "This kind of modest price differential gives customers the ability [with the MAP-625] to install an 11n-ready wireless net today, and no need to swap out access points in the future," says Blume.

Ruckus Wireless this week unveils the new 11n ZoneFlex WLAN product line, designed specifically to be easy to deploy and run for small and midsize businesses.

ZoneFlex consists of a new 11g access point, an existing 11g low-end access point for small offices, a new 11n draft 2 access point, and the ZoneDirector 1000, which is a controller available in 3 models to support up to 25 access points.

Both access points use Ruckus' patented built-in antenna technology: which uses a several discrete components that Ruckus software can combine in over 4,000 combinations to optimize the radio signal for a given location, signal environment and traffic load. This "beam-steering" antenna also boosts the range of Ruckus access points by 2 or 4 times compared to conventional omni-directional antennas, according to Selina Lo, president and CEO of the Sunnyvale, Calif. vendor.

Longer range has two benefits in enterprise networks. It can mean using fewer access points to cover a given area. But the more important benefit is that the signal between access point and clients is stronger and more consistent at any given distance, creating a more reliable wireless connection. Ruckus has used this antenna technology as the basis for its original product line of in-home wireless routers for streaming multimedia through an entire house.

The new ZoneFlex 2942 is the new11g access point, which looks deliberately like a non-descript gray clamshell, so as not to draw attention. It has two 10/100 Ethernet ports, allowing them to be daisy-chained to each other, without a separate cable run for each to a LAN switch. Ruckus promises 20Mbps of "sustained throughput" meaning that there's little or no variation, in large part due to the beam-steering antenna system.

Ruckus' existing five-port 2925 11g access point, designed for small office and hotspot-style deployments, can also be used with the ZoneFlex line.

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