Wi-Fi News from Interop

Vendors urged conference attendees to cut the cord this week at Interop Las Vegas, where a new wave of increasingly innovative 802.11n products made their debut.

 By Lisa Phifer
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Vendors urged conference attendees to cut the cord this week at Interop Las Vegas, where a new wave of increasingly innovative 802.11n products made their debut.

According to a study announced by Motorola, enterprises providing WLAN access to more than half their workforce grew 20 percent last year.

"The technology is ready to evolve from the wireless edge to the completely wireless enterprise," said Sujai Hajela, VP of Motorola's Enterprise WLAN business.

To help fund this sea change, Xirrus announced that its Wi-Fi Array customers will receive a $50 credit for each Ethernet switch port replaced by 802.11.

"We are at the defining moment in the networking industry as Wi-Fi becomes the primary connection," said Xirrus CEO Dirk Gates.

However, last year's Interop headlines did not trigger broad 802.11n adoption. Thus far, businesses have approached 802.11n with caution. While any major upgrade requires planning, dozens of options can make 802.11n products challenging to understand or use to their full potential. As a result, many vendors announced products to simplify deployment and maximize return on investment.

Getting a handle on 802.11n

AirMagnet's new 802.11n WLAN Suite products took home this year's Best of Interop award in the Wireless and Mobile category. According to Wade Williamson, Director of Product Management, 802.11n technology brings together multiple disciplines, but few people understand all of them.

"Our customers were asking: How do I evaluate 802.11n products? How do I fit them into my existing network? And how do I deal with problems? So we focused on our latest releases on helping them answer these questions."

The 802.11n WLAN Suite combines new releases of AirMagnet Analyzer and Survey products, available separately or with a custom AirMagnet 802.11a/b/g/n PC card. Many new 802.11n-centric tools have been incorporated, from a simulator that uses baseline observations to predict the impact of 802.11n options to an integrated iPerf client that measures actual uplink and downlink throughput. The Suite also demystifies 802.11n by providing context sensitive Help and an integrated How-To Guide to help customers more effectively plan and manage their 802.11n investments.

Easing 802.11n deployment

A number of new product announcements were aimed at businesses interested in 802.11n but worried about common deployment challenges. For example, several vendors—including Trapeze and Aruba—announced new APs that can provide full 802.11n functionality on the power delivered by standard 802.3af Power over Ethernet.

Trapeze Networks also demonstrated its new NonStop Wireless solution at Interop. This "virtual controller" approach is supported by the latest releases of Trapeze Mobility System Software (MSS) and Ring Master, paired with Trapeze's new MP-432 APs and MX-2800 Controllers. In a nutshell, MSS attempts to automatically remap resources whenever an AP or controller fails, responding fast enough to avoid disrupting active SIP calls. The new MP-432 and MX-2800 will be generally available in late May, assisted by a trade-in promotion to help customers update out-of-date APs.

Aruba Networks' AirWave division announced AirWave Wireless Management Suite 6, used to manage this year's Interop show WLAN. By providing multi-vendor management for both legacy 802.11/a/b/g and new 802.11n products, the latest AirWave release facilitates migration.

"Instead of forcing customers to rip-and-replace their legacy network, they can instead add 802.11n on a schedule that meets their logistical and budgetary requirements," said COO Greg Murphy. Version 6 is available now as a free upgrade for AirWave customers enrolled in a support plan.

Enabling Ethernet-like reliability and capacity

Meru Networks announced the AP440, a flexible 4-radio AP that can be configured for gigabit capacity or RF redundancy. According to chief architect Joe Epstein, the AP440 is uniquely capable of delivering true RF robustness. Most other APs shift channels to avoid RF interference, disrupting both clients and nearby APs. With the AP440, one pair of radios can be dedicated to 2.4 GHz and the other pair to 5 GHz, creating an active/active configuration that enables rapid fail-over without disruption, he said.

Alternatively, the AP440 can take advantage of Meru's virtual cell architecture by combining four 300 Mbps radios operating in the same band to carry up to 1.2 Gbps of traffic.

"Our customers tell us that reliability is their #1 issue, but we also wanted to provide the potential for gigabit capacity," said Epstein. To avoid upstream bottlenecks, Meru also announced the MC5000, an acceleration module that can be used to boost controller capacity to 20 Gbps.

Despite its power, the AP440 is surprisingly compact, with all four radios and their internal 3x3 MIMO antennas tucked into a single laptop-like enclosure. An integrated USB port provides extensibility—for example, a WiSpy fob can be inserted for full-time spectrum analysis. The AP440 will be available 3Q08.

Finding new opportunities for 802.11n

Several vendors announced products intended to exploit the power of 802.11n as a mesh networking technology, including Aerohive and Ruckus Wireless.

According to Ruckus Wireless CEO Selina Lo, many businesses will start using 802.11n for wireless backhaul. In the near-term, most wireless clients will still use legacy 802.11a/b/g protocols. However, many businesses could significantly reduce the cost of installing new 802.11n APs if they could reduce the number of wired Ethernet drops required for backhaul.

Legacy WDS links were too static and too limited by bandwidth, but 802.11n solves the bandwidth problem—particularly in the 5 GHz band—while Ruckus' SmartMesh technology can make a backhaul mesh self-organizing and self-healing. A Ruckus SmartMesh consists of a ZoneDirector and up to 250 Ruckus ZoneFlex 802.11g/n APs 'see "Can Ruckus Redefine How Enterprise WLANs are Deployed?"'

At Interop, Ruckus unveiled performance test results to demonstrate how SmartMesh compares to another-vendor 802.11n AP using the same chipset, but without the benefit of Ruckus' Smart Wi-Fi antenna technology. In those tests, Ruckus performed just as well over a single 802.11n hop, but noticeably better over multiple mesh hops. If Ruckus APs had been permitted to self-optimize during the test, the number of hops would have been reduced by path optimization, further increasing the benefits afforded by SmartMesh. SmartMesh is available today as a free upgrade to customers with ZoneDirector WLAN controllers.

Lisa Phifer owns Core Competence, a consulting firm focused on business use of emerging network and security technologies. She has been involved in the design, implementation, assessment, and testing of NetSec products and services for over 25 years.

Article courtesy of Wi-Fi Planet

This article was originally published on May 2, 2008
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