Aruba's 802.11ac Rollout Cleans Up Sticky Clients
Lee H. Badman
May 21, 2013
Aruba is the latest vendor to announce pre-standard 802.11ac APs. Like other WLAN vendors, Aruba is touting more than just 11ac's improved performance in an effort to distinguish itself from the pack.
For instance, Cisco claims "future proofing" with an 11ac module for its flagship 11n AP. Motorola has an environmental monitoring module and local content caching for things like frequently viewed video. Ubiquity gives away its controller code, and delivers 11ac at rock-bottom prices.
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Now Aruba steps up to address the pervasive issue of "sticky clients." A sticky wireless client device is one that doesn't roam well from one AP to another. Roaming decisions, as per the original 802.11 standard, are largely up to the client device. When a client is "sticky" it can be frustrating for the user and support staff alike because performance suffers from poor signal quality and lower data rates.
Aruba aims to clean up sticky clients with a patented fix called ClientMatch. Details are scant, but it seems to rely on newer clients that support 802.11k (radio resource measurement) and 802.11v (smoother client transitions between APs). This means clients are willing to let the system make roaming decisions for them. Aruba also has a proprietary mechanism for legacy clients that tries to put clients where they should be in the topology as conditions change. ClientMatch is a clever differentiator because if clients don't behave properly in even the best network, 11ac might as well be 11b.
Aruba has also updated its ArubaOS code to version 6.3. The latest release enhances its application visibility around Microsoft Lync. Aruba takes advantage of Microsoft's new Lync Diagnostic API to distill all sub-components of Lync for troubleshooting and reporting in ways that typical Lync classification can't touch.
Finally, there are Aruba's new 802.11ac 220 series APs. Aruba markets the 220s as an easy migration to 11ac, as they can run off of "legacy" PoE 802.11af, and don't require higher-juice 11at yet. They also will accommodate link aggregation of two gigabit uplinks if desired, and will work with all current Aruba controllers. Aruba says the controllers will be available in June, and pricing lists at $1,295.
A controllerless "Instant" version 220 will be available later in the year, and performance specs are pretty much on par with all other Wave 1 access points so far announced. Unlike Cisco and Motorola, Aruba so far has no declared interest in optional modules for its access points.
As each vendor antes up for 11ac, it appears we'll be treated to a procession of supporting innovations. Given that you can only build so much of a story around 11ac's data rates, and that there's an upswell of frustration about the complexity of wiring for 11ac, I expect vendors will emphasize their distinguishing features more vigorously as additional products come to market.