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Extreme Networks' Pint-Sized Wireless Powerhouse

In this era of waning wired client connectivity, there are lots of used and vacant UTP runs scattered about. At the same time, many wireless access points are poor candidates for taking advantage of the typical knee-high data jacks that pervade most modern buildings. And then there’s the slick little Snap-On Wi-Fi access point from Extreme Networks, which brings an innovative form factor and decent feature set to market.

Having witnessed first-hand the migration of network clients away from the wire in favor of the portability benefits of wireless, I frequently find myself pondering the use of abandoned data jacks when it comes time to add wireless access points to a given area. I’m one of those purists who sees the simple premise wiring run as a component unto itself. If it was installed and tested properly, it is as much an IT asset as anything. And pulling in new wire for access points that mount to the ceiling when perfectly suitable runs live 18 inches above the floor can feel like a travesty at times.

Sure, you can just plug in a patch cable and locate the AP on a desk or bookshelf. Or add wire mold to dress the patch cable up wall to a higher mounting spot. If the jack is active, you can use a little switch to expand the network (clunky). Or, you can get Extreme’s versatile little new single-gang, flush-mount Altitude 4511 Snap-On Wi-Fi access point. Built for easy installation, the 4511 also attempts to make building enterprise-class wireless environments easy. I like almost everything about it.

The important stuff goes like this: The 4511 installs in 2 minutes or less on existing cabling. It has three times the output power of competitors with the same form factor. Based on Motorola wireless technology, it can fulfill roles including client access, IPS, spectrum analysis or troubleshooting. It can be its own wireless controller, or control up to 24 neighboring APs on the same WLAN. The 4511 can also extend the Ethernet network by incorporating a variety of RJ-45 modules and performing as a full-featured Ethernet switch, on top of its wireless duties. Very powerful.

So what’s not to love? For client access, the 4511 is only a single-radio component. You can do 11g/n or 11a/n, but not both on the same AP. (Spectrum analysis and troubleshooting does cover both bands on a single 4511.) Nor can the 4511 do mesh, which is pretty much standard with most mainstream access point offerings today. But on balance, Extreme is giving those in the market a very cool new wireless solution that can offer a lot of options when costly rewire just isn’t an option.

The WLAN designer side of my brain can forgive what I see as the shortcomings of a single-band access point, when I consider the power that comes with getting full-function, low-profile APs into client spaces like hotel and hospital rooms. Too often, operational constraints force access points to land in hallways and closets, where walls and doors come between access points and a growing procession of lower-powered wireless client devices like smartphones and tablets. The 4511 is unobtrusive enough to mount anywhere you have a good data jack, and that alone commands respect.

At the time of publication, Extreme Networks is not a client of and has no business relationship with Lee Badman.