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First Look: Cisco's 1250 802.11n AP

Pulling the trigger on a pre-standard product is risky, but sometimes, so is waiting. We reviewed Cisco's enterprise-class 11n AP and found it worth a pilot.

Responsible IT decision makers are wary of pre-standard technologies, having discovered the hard way that "pre-standard" is often code for "proprietary, premature, and/or prone to vendor lock-in." Still, sometimes you have to walk on the wild side, so when Cisco Systems offered to let us test an early version of its 1250 802.11n Draft 2.0 access point in our Syracuse University Real-World Labs, we were excited to get a glimpse of the future of enterprise WLANs.

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From a performance standpoint, our testing revealed speed increases of four to six times what an 802.11a/g infrastructure can provide. And using an 802.11n access point for even legacy a/b/g clients delivered a measurable performance advantage thanks to the ability of a multiple input, multiple output (MIMO) approach to maintain high-bandwidth data rates for a larger portion of an AP's coverage area. For a/b/g voice-over-WLAN phones, this reliability translates into higher-quality calls and fewer dead spots.

THE UPSHOT
CLAIM:  Cisco's 1250 access point incorporates 802.11n technology to deliver throughput rivaling Fast Ethernet and predictable performance across challenging environments. Advanced MIMO signal processing, frame aggregation, and 40-MHz-wide channels let the 1250 support high bandwidth and real-time mobile applications while maintaining backward compatibility with voice and data 802.11a/b/g clients.
CONTEXT:  The Wi-Fi Alliance's decision to certify 802.11n Draft 2.0 products bolstered confidence in this high-throughput IEEE standard, opening the door for enterprise-class APs with a guaranteed base level of interoperability. Aruba, Cisco, and Meru are shipping Draft 2.0-certified equipment. Colubris, Trapeze, and Siemens have offerings on the drawing board.
CREDIBILITY:  Cisco's 1250 delivered impressive performance and tight integration into Cisco's Unified Wireless Network platform. Although we'd like to see a nonmodular version with integrated antennas, this AP is rugged and provides investment protection. It's compelling technology and worth a pilot.

We believe 802.11n's bug-shakedown period will be a less rocky version of what occurred when 802.11g was an IEEE draft: 802.11g's Wi-Fi Alliance interoperability certification occurred after the standard was finalized; in contrast, products based on 802.11n Draft 2.0 are being certified today, before the standard's ratification by the IEEE. As of this writing, 225 products, albeit predominantly oriented toward small and home offices, have received the seal of interoperability from the Wi-Fi Alliance. Notable names on that list include Apple, Aruba Networks, Atheros, Broadcom, Cisco, Intel, and Meru Networks--all big players with an economic interest in ensuring that the current crop of 802.11n Draft 2.0 products are backward and forward compatible.

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