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Interop: Vendors Tackle Wi-Fi Troubles

With customers unwilling to overhaul their infrastructure to migrate from 802.11a/b/g technology, vendors like Broadcom, Aruba, and Aerohive are getting creative.

Vendors at Interop Las Vegas 2008 are taking aim at the power-consumption problem faced by organizations deploying high-speed 802.11n wireless LANs.

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The Wi-Fi technology brings wired Ethernet-like performance to WLANs, but the access points that connect mobile devices to the network typically use more power than a school's or business' older power over Ethernet system can deliver. With customers unwilling to overhaul their infrastructure to migrate from slower 802.11a/b/g technology, vendors are getting creative.

Broadcom, for example, plans to demonstrate a new system-on-a-chip for access points that uses half the power of other chipsets, according to the company. The BCM4342 is a 65-nanometer processor that packs more transistors than the typical 90-nm chip used today for a far better power-to-performance ratio. The numbers refer to the size of the transistors that drive microprocessors.

As a result the latest chipset makes it possible for access points to operate simultaneously on the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz frequency radio bands using an existing PoE infrastructure, Michael Powell, senior product line manager for Broadcom, told InformationWeek.

Being able to run dual-radio devices is important because they are able to take full advantage of all of 802.11n's capabilities, such as support for multiple data streams. The older 802.11 technology supported only one data stream.

This is good news for access-point manufacturers that have had to make compromises to get around the power problem, such as delivering 802.11n in a single-radio system, automatically disabling some services, requiring two PoE cables, or sacrificing range. Broadcom claims those tradeoffs won't be necessary in access points built with its new processor.

BCM4342 combines an 802.11 medium access controller, a baseband processor, 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz radios and other WLAN components on a single silicon die, according to Broadcom. This reduces the number of components required for a WLAN subsystem by two-thirds, which lowers a manufacturer's bill of materials cost.

The IEEE is expected to finalize the current draft of the 802.11n standard in March 2009 with publication expected that December. Hardware manufacturers, however, are releasing products now, expecting the final version to not be much different than what's available today.

Organizations are interested in migrating to the new technology because it delivers performance comparable to a traditional wired Ethernet LAN, while providing end users with more flexibility in moving around the workplace. In addition, the technology can support voice over IP calls through dual-mode cellular phones, which could reduce telephone bills.

Aruba Networks says it's making the move to 802.11n easier by introducing access points that can be enabled for the faster technology through a software download. The new AP-124ABG and AP-125ABG support 802.11a/b/g out of the box, but can be upgraded over the network when companies, schools, hospitals and other institutions are ready to make the switch. The new products, which will be on display at Interop, are scheduled to ship early in the summer. Pricing was not disclosed.

Along with the new hardware, Aruba plans to introduce at Interop an upgrade of its wireless network management suite of software that adds support for 802.11n networks and the monitoring of hardware within a wired network.

AirWave Wireless Management Suite 6 can be plugged into third-party IT service management software, such as BMC's Remedy, in order to add tracking and resolution of end-user problems on a wireless network. The upgrade also offers a new set of reports and monitoring views to determine when a wireless network is approaching capacity, so users can better manage needed expansions.

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