Xirrus APs Target The Internet Of Things

WLAN vendor aims to support the growth of WiFi IoT devices with new Xtreme Density access points.

May 13, 2015

3 Min Read
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As both the Internet of Things and the buzz that goes with it pick up steam, network vendors are starting to capitalize on IoT as a business driver. In the WLAN space, Xirrus has announced a new strategy aimed at addressing the specific challenges that crop up when modern fast wireless clients have to play in the same sandbox as WiFi-enabled IoT

Given the shared nature of WLAN infrastructure, faster clients often feel a slowdown in performance in the presence of slower devices when all share a given access point. Many WiFi IoT devices are expected to be low-bandwidth, resource-constrained devices that have a greater interest in preserving their own battery life than being good radio neighbors in the presence of faster client neighbors. It’s this dimension of the Internet of Things that Xirrus takes aim at with its new Xtreme Density (XD) access points and accompanying TurboXpress and ACExpress features.

For the uninitiated, Xirrus’ signature differentiator in the WLAN market is that it doesn't sell the “typical” access point. Xirrus is an array vendor, packing as many as 16 radios into a single large chassis that is meant to take the place of multiple traditional access points. The first XD release, the XD4, features four software-defined radios designed to service large volumes of client devices of different WLAN capabilities.

When deployed in a fast client device setting, the XD4 can run all of its radios in 802.11ac mode. Where a mix of device types, including slower IoT clients, is in play, the XD4 can adjust by dedicating a radio specifically to pokier devices so the faster clients aren’t penalized. Xirrus explains that “mode steering” helps optimize which radio a given client talks to with its latest version of the ACExpress feature.  The goal here is keeping the faster 11ac clients on their own radio highway while automatically moving slower clients to a different radio.

I’m not comfortable with Xirrus’ claim that “XD APs accommodate four times more users than competing APs, while reducing the amount of equipment deployed by 75% and decreasing TCO by 30%." This sort of marketing is largely without context, and the benefit to customers will absolutely vary from site to site based on countless influencing factors.

At the same time, Xirrus is somewhat unique in that it has mode-flexible radios. When the new TurboXpress feature is invoked by clicking a simple config button, all four of an XD’s radios toggle to 11ac mode to add capacity if needed (as opposed to touching each radio individually). Obviously, a four-radio AP exclusively serving 11ac clients can’t also provide access to slower IoT devices, but Xirrus points out that the flexibility of XD arrays scattered around gives a customer options for both short and long-term RF environmental customizations to simultaneously address IoT and 11ac clients as needed.

To put a finer point on making sure clients of all types get what they need from the WLAN, the XD access points also play well with the rest of the Xirrus AP product line if mixing and matching is desired, and all support Xirrus' Application Control functionality for prioritizing traffic beyond just the radio technology in play.

What Xirrus isn't announcing is a 802.11ac Wave 2 hardware set. Right now, Ruckus is still the only enterprise vendor with that claim to fame, and so Xirrus can’t count Wave 2's signature feature, multi-user MIMO (MU-MIMO), as an asset for the new XD access points. But for the last couple of years, Xirrus has been playing up the modular nature of its gear and says existing arrays will be able to bump up to Wave 2  with just a radio swap later this year.

For IoT, the promise of MU-MIMO means that more clients can simultaneously talk to the access point rather than WiFi’s traditional one-client-at-a-time communications. Looking forward, it’s a safe bet we’ll be hearing more on IoT and 11ac Wave 2 from more WLAN vendors that want to stay relevant. 

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