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Network Computing

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Lee H. Badman
Lee H. Badman Network Computing Blogger

Ubiquiti Rolls Out 802.11ac APs on the Cheap

Ubiquiti offers an 11ac AP for under $300 in a bid to grab early adopters and price-conscious companies--and to entice customers from WLAN vendors such as Ruckus and Aruba Networks.

For those keeping score, Ubiquiti is the first vendor to bring an enterprise-grade 802.11ac access point to market, and at a price that is guaranteed to be an order of magnitude less than what competitors will charge.

The company's new draft-802.11ac UAP-AC access point lists for $299. Other competitors sell APs for about $1,000 each. In addition, Ubiquiti doesn't charge for its controller or management software. Customers can run the software on their own equipment on premises or use a cloud version. That's a very compelling pricing story.

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Ubiquiti's dual-band UAP-AC promises 5GHz speed to 1,300 Mbps (remember, 11ac is 5GHz-only), with support for legacy a/b/g/n clients. Expect to see similar numbers from pretty much everybody when 11ac access points start shipping in earnest.

One caveat, however: Ubiquiti is aiming for budget-conscious customers with the UAP-AC, but the device requires PoE+, which is not found very often in entry-level PoE switches.

The company has also announced "zero handoff roaming" for environments that worry about voice over WLAN and similar network-sensitive applications. The simple explanation is that unlike typical 802.11 client-driven roaming, which can be a several-step process and result in a lot of overhead traffic and spot application disruption, Ubiquiti's roaming magic happens exclusively between APs and is transparent to the client.

Meru offers a similar feature, though Meru's secret sauce for roaming happens in the controller. All Ubiquiti APs (or at least the same SSID) have to share a channel, and the entire topology appears as a single virtual cell to the client.

I can't claim a deep familiarity with Ubiquity's WLAN products, although I do have a handful of their wireless bits and pieces in service. I like the versatility of the company's AirOS operating system, but I have not personally tested the 11ac APs.

That said, I'm intrigued by Ubiquiti's pricing. I run a multimillion-dollar 802.11n WLAN in my day job, and upgrading this big environment to 11ac will be expensive. It's hard not to look at Ubiquity's lineup of APs and free software and start doing the math. On paper, at least, there is little that the Ubiquity offering can't address from my own list of needs, from multisite management to limited mesh functions to guest portals.

There's considerable interest in 802.11ac, particularly as enterprise WLAN traffic grows and enterprises seek out better performance and throughput. According to InformationWeek's 2013 Wireless LAN survey, 64% of respondents say their wireless traffic has increased, and another 21% percent say it's exploded.

However, 55% of respondents have no immediate deployment plans for 11ac because it's too early in the technology cycle. Another 13% are holding off until the standard is finalized and ratified, and products are certified. That could be another year. (By the way, I'll be hosting a session on 11ac at Interop on Tuesday, May 7th. You can register for the conference here.)

Ubiquiti may be hoping to spur the market a bit. Besides offering low prices, Ubiquiti has targeted customers of Ruckus and Aruba with an offer of a free indoor AP if customers switch.

At the same time, Ubiquiti is not attempting to fully emulate the current wave of "unified everything" approaches, where the wireless network also does application visibility, MDM, device on-boarding, and RADIUS functions all within the same product set. Those are Cadillac systems. It's clear that Ubquiti's strategy is based on the notion that that lots of people are just as interested in Chevys.



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