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.

Antone Gonsalves

April 25, 2008

5 Min Read
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Vendors at Interop Las Vegas 2008 are taking aim at the power-consumption problem faced by organizations deploying high-speed 802.11n wireless LANs.Interop OnlineStay on top of breaking news and blog coverage from Interop in Las Vegas,
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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.Another key new feature in the upgrade is the ability to monitor wired network hardware, such as routers, switches, authentication servers and management servers, which may have an impact on the performance of a WLAN. The feature is expected to provide more comprehensive network analysis and more accurate diagnostics.

The new product ships this month, and will be available at no additional charge to Aruba customers with service contracts. For new customers, pricing starts at less than $6,000, Michael Tennefoss, head of strategic marketing at Aruba, told InformationWeek.

Aerohive Networks plans to introduce a line of 802.11n access points that do not need expensive centralized controllers to manage traffic. In addition, the devices use the company's proprietary SmartPoE technology that detects the level of power on the network and makes the necessary adjustments. The devices also have two PoE ports if a customer chooses to deliver the needed power on an 802.11a/b/g infrastructure without making compromises.

Aerohive claims that its controller-less WLAN architecture eliminates bandwidth bottlenecks, latency and jitter that results from moving traffic through a controller. The company also said its strategy of distributing controller functions among the access points makes the network more resilient and scalable.

Aerohive plans to offer three 802.11n access points. The HiveAP 320 is built for indoor use, the HiveAP 340 for indoor-industrial use, and the HiveAP 380 for outdoor use. The first two are scheduled to ship in July, and the latter in the fourth quarter.

Ruckus Wireless plans to show off its one-radio, 2.4GHz ZoneFlex 7942 access point for organizations that want a higher performing 802.11n device, but are on a tight budget. Configuration of the device is done through a Web-based wizard that ships with the Ruckus ZoneDirector controller.

The ZoneFlex 7942 supports up to 100 simultaneous data users or 20 concurrent voice calls, according to Ruckus. The device costs about $700.

Finally, Trapeze Networks plans to demonstrate the MP-432, a dual-radio access point that the company claims can provide 802.11n capabilities on an 802.3af PoE connection. The latter standard is what's used on 802.11a/b/g networks. The company claims its device also supports the emerging 802.3at PoE standard for 802.11n networks. The MP-432 is available now for $1,300.

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