Lee H. Badman

Network Computing Blogger


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Taking Wireless Infrastructure Outdoors

Tessco is one of those companies that may not immediately come to mind when you ponder Wi-Fi. It’s easy to think of the communications supply house as a place to go for hardware and specialty tools, but I recently learned there is another side to Tessco called Ventev. If you design wireless networks, you’ll want to know about Ventev.

Through the years, I’ve ordered my share of antennas and mounts, custom-built cables, and other oddball support hardware from Tessco. Where the WLAN vendor leaves off and you need creativity to finish challenging installations, Tessco can usually get you over the finish line. Tessco is also well-respected for outdoor projects like cellular and point-to-point, from engineering support to manufacturing.

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I mention this only to establish that Tessco is no newcomer to the wireless industry. At the same time, the recently established Ventev division is looking to make a more direct impact on the WLAN market with an intriguing product strategy unveiled at May’s CTIA 2013--The Mobile Marketplace show.

The Ventev lineup includes all manner of WLAN and indoor distributed antenna system (DAS)-specific gear, with a stated mission of helping customers deploy, protect and improve the performance of their wireless infrastructure. At CTIA, Ventev announced an interesting outdoor enclosure system for access points plus a unique “self-contained Wi-Fi hotspot.” Neither is particularly high-tech per se, but both provide unique alternatives to the status quo for outdoor wireless coverage.

The new outdoor enclosure system accommodates current-generation indoor access points from Aruba, Cisco, Motorola and Meru. Actually, it fits each like a glove, and allows lower-cost indoor access points to be used outside while still accommodating outdoor-style antenna requirements. Where needed, each enclosure uses standard PoE to both power the APs and heaters/fans, and Tessco reps feel that the combination of indoor APs and a custom enclosure is significantly cheaper than a comparative hardened outdoor access point, with no compromise in performance. There are also non-powered, PoE and AC, and battery-backed up options in the enclosure line.

Having to occasionally purchase and wrestle with big, heavy purpose-built outdoor APs, I like the Ventev story in this regard. It won’t fit for every outdoor wireless application, but it will for a great many. It also makes sparing of hardware easier and less expensive.

[Read how wireless access will eventually dominate wired access in the enterprise in, "Wi-Fi To Rule Enterprise Networks, Predicts New Report."]

The Ventev self-contained hotspot announced at CTIA has interesting functionality, but will likely be more of a niche product than the outdoor enclosure. The hotspot is aimed at disaster recovery scenarios and outdoor events where reliable, high-density Wi-Fi coverage is temporarily needed. A very rugged, weatherproof and climate-controlled cabinet holds up to four standard indoor access points and a network switch, along with external antennas.

There are a slew of power options available, but the basic premise is that one of the APs provides radio backhaul or mesh connectivity to the network, while the other three serve up to hundreds of 802.11n clients in both bands. Think go-kits and quick-deploy, scalable Wi-Fi.

Personally, I’m glad to see old-school engineering still has a place in the modern Wi-Fi world. Tessco is showing the good sense to evolve as the rest of the industry does, and though we’re talking about using passive enclosures to make high-tech access points shine, they will shine brighter with the Ventev products in the right settings.

At the same time, I’d love to see a bit more obvious integration with 3G/4G mentioned so that a Ventev hotspot optionally gets treated more like a branch office from the back-haul perspective. Some of that is natively accommodated by specific AP models that can do the LTE backhaul thing, like Motorola’s 8232, but I’d like to hear a more global story from Ventev on alternative backhaul options for these slick enclosures.

Today’s wireless super systems are chock-full of impressive features, but still can benefit from Tessco/Ventev-style accessories.


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