802.11ac wireless access point review

Date August 21, 2013 Author Comments Leave your thoughts
802.11ac Graphic

Super-fast WiFi is here…

Many industry forecasters are predicting a sharp rise in the adoption of 802.11ac wireless by the end of 2013, a trend that is being propagated by the industry’s leading manufacturers as they continue to improve the technology and the accompanying hardware. As reported by ABI Research, The WiFi hardware market, unlike that of PCs, is experiencing a hike in sales, corresponding with the continued profitability of the mobile market.

So with more mobile devices, and the declining use of personal computers, the requirement for faster and more capable WiFi seems, as one might expect, to be the next ‘big thing’. 802.11ac uses the more spacious 5 GHz band, creating better performance than on the crowded 2.4 Ghz frequency, and with this increased speed and bandwidth, better wireless within high density environments, such as educational facilities, hospitals and large offices, is becoming a real possibility.

Cisco first off the blocks

Cisco were the first to offer an 802.11ac-compatible access point solution, albeit a modular add-on to their already existing 3600 Aironet device. However, this approach appears to have worked for the networking giant, as they have reportedly deployed over 40,000 .11ac units as of the beginning of August this year.

Supporting three spatial streams and with a maximum data rate of 1.3 Gbps, the 3600 .11ac module offers wireless clients three times the performance of 802.11n enterprise devices. With impressive range and reliability, the 3600 also features Explicit Compressed Beam-Forming (ECBF) which improves the battery life of 802.11ac supported mobile devices.

The Cisco 3600 can be ‘field-upgraded’ with the 802.11ac module, making it an attractive option for those enterprises who are not quite ready to upgrade but who are predicting a demand in the not too distant future. Not only this, the modular upgrade will allow organisations to choose to upgrade only within areas that are known to suffer under high-usage, eliminating the need for complete network overhauls.

Aruba innovation

Following hot on Cisco’s heels, Aruba Networks continued their reputation for WiFi innovation with the 802.11ac-specific 220 Access Point. Keen to push the vision of an all wireless office with 802.11ac, Aruba Networks believe that the need to ‘pull cables’ will be eliminated with the development of this latest WiFi standard. The key to what Aruba have formulated in .11ac is their ClientMatch technology, which enables optimised client roaming and access point ‘load management’.

In terms of the Aruba 220’s specifications, the unit matches Cisco’s modular option with a maximum of 1.3 Gbps in the 5 GHz band. However, by combining the potential for performance and reliability that 11.ac promises with the efficiencies of ClientMatch, an enhanced experience for all wireless clients on the enterprise network is certainly possible, as it becomes not only faster but more intelligent.

Cisco Meraki 802.11ac    

Cisco’s acquisition of Meraki earlier this year has led to perhaps the most exciting 802.11ac addition to date, the Cisco Meraki MR34. Although featuring similar performance specifications as the Cisco 3600 module and the Aruba 220, the MR34 discerns itself from the other devices with the inclusion of a third radio; this is the first time any access point has included this feature and, according to Cisco Meraki, makes it the “most secure AP on the market”. A bold statement, but one that cannot be dismissed given that, in addition to this new radio feature, the MR34 still comes with a built in layer 7 firewall as well as a host of other monitoring tools.

Operating as a full time scanner, the MR34’s third dual band radio optimises the activity of the access point according to changes in the RF environment, whilst adding a layer of security with Cisco Meraki’s Air Marshal technology. The extra radio can even provide visualised reports and spectrum analysis, allowing IT administrators to gain granular visibility into how their network is performing.

The rule of three

As suggested by the Latin phrase, “omni trium perfectum” (everything that comes in three is perfect), the 802.11ac market is currently well poised. However, as the standard advances, more hardware will surely be developed and improved upon, which can only be a good thing for what bodes to be a revolutionary innovation for enterprise wireless networking.

To find out more about 802.11ac, read our previous blog entry on the topic.

Tagged in , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Categorised in

Author Gregg Meade

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *