New Xirrus 802.11ac access point offers economized gigabit Wi-Fi

Xirrus' new 802.11ac access point offers an economized approach to gigabit Wi-Fi, which may help persuade midmarket customers to migrate to 802.11ac.

Xirrus Inc. has introduced its new, low-cost 802.11ac access point option for midmarket customers who may be not have an imminent need for gigabit Wi-Fi, and are looking for a more gradual migration path from 802.11n to .11ac without buying expensive access points.

Not every business will need a robust wireless LAN infrastructure filled with premium 802.11ac access points. While some early adopter verticals -- like education -- are already testing and deploying gigabit W-Fi, many other enterprises are finding their environments may not require 1.3Gbps data rates. Xirrus' latest edition to its XR-600 series, the XR-620, serves as an approachable, "scaled down" 802.11ac option, which could encourage adoption for businesses running up against their refresh cycles, said Jim Berenbaum, research director of mobility, wireless and network technologies for Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner Research Inc.

"Over time, .11ac technology and capabilities need to be extended down the product line within lower cost alternatives," Berenbaum said. "Lowering the entry threshold for any new technology is always attractive to enterprises."

Xirrus access points the right size for smaller operations

The new XR-620 802.11ac access point offers two, instead of the industry-standard, 3-stream access points. While 2x2 rates may be more appropriate for smaller businesses or environments that aren't supporting many 802.11ac clients yet, the XR-620 gives customers the option of supporting 802.11ac on both radios, unlike many fixed operation access points on the market that only support new technology halfway, on one radio, said Bruce Miller, vice president of product marketing for Thousand Oaks, Calif.-based Xirrus. The XR-620 rounds out the company's wireless LAN portfolio, which consists of high-end arrays for large deployments -- such as public arenas and event centers -- and its 802.11ac premium access point options -- the XR-600 product line that includes the XR-630 for enterprise deployments. 

The new access point is still backwards-compatible, with both radios able to operate in 802.11a/b/g/n/ac and in the 2.4GHz or 5GHz spectrums. The XR-620 can be purchased as an 802.11n access point at a reduced price, and can later be upgraded to 802.11ac as business needs change, the company said.

"A lot [of 802.11ac] products that have been announced to date support the full-performance, 3X3, 1.3Gbps wireless, and the adopters have been those with budgets that support cutting edge technology; however, a lot of other [businesses] can't afford that premium approach," Miller said. "This offering extends the Xirrus product line with a low-cost .11ac option."

More on 802.11ac access points:

Aruba introduces outdoor 802.11ac access point series

Cisco unveils Wave2-ready 802.11ac access point

Aerohive announces duel 802.11ac/n access points

By removing one of the special streams, Xirrus is lowering the complexity and cost of the device for organizations, Berenbaum said. "Many of the clients [that support 802.11ac] today only have 1 or 2 stream capabilities. Therefore, those devices aren't taking advantage of that typical third special stream anyway," he said.

Optix Media, a managed service provider and Xirrus customer, is beta testing the XR-620 access points, and plans to roll out 802.11ac to one of its customers, Brigham Young University. Optix delivers wireless service to 8,000 students in 25 apartment complexes on campus. The provider also plans on deploying the XR-620 access points to its other multi-dwelling unit customers, and will operate them in backwards-compatibility mode, said Shane Moulton, CEO of Optix Media.

"We can buy these [XR] 620s at a much lower cost that other [.11ac products], deploy them, and when .11ac becomes prevalent, I can just call Xirrus for product keys to upgrade," Moulton said. "This is going to be a big part of our business model."

While many environments won't call for gigabit Wi-Fi today, Xirrus' affordable XR 620 access point allows upgrades to be done in minutes, without physical configuration from IT, he said. "The upgrade path just makes sense with such a low price point for us to get in, be competitive, and slowly upgrade as our customers need."

Right-sized 802.11ac access points still won't sway every organization

Lower prices on a more form-fitting access point might not be enough to encourage every organization to migrate to 802.11ac, however.. While upgrading to newer technology is typically highly dependent on a business' refresh cycle, some organizations still won't need gigabit speeds, and might be leery of possible wireless range issues with a 2-stream access point.

"My biggest concern is coverage. I don't want to have to buy two or three [2X2] 802.11ac-capable access points [if] I only needed one .11n access point [for coverage] before," said Jonathan DiBiasio, IT director for an East Coast-based health insurance provider.

DiBiasio and his team have deployed 802.11n throughout the provider's campus, and like many healthcare facilities, older devices that don't support 802.11ac -- like wireless scanners in exam rooms -- have to be supported. While more 802.11ac-capable devices will be coming down the road, 802.11n is still a good fit for the foreseeable future, and won't require the organization to start upgrading switches -- another costly potential side effect of 802.11ac migrations, he said. 

"Medical reports and lab results aren't very large, so we won't need the fastest download times available," DiBiasio said. "I would have to see more of a need for it; right now the applications we are running don't need a gig of throughput -- 300 Mbps is fine for what we need."

"As 802.11ac becomes more widely available and costs continue to improve, it will most likely become more attractive for many organizations to consider [for] a deployment and for [.11ac] to reach more verticals," Gartner's Berenbaum said.

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Gina Narcisi, news writer and follow @GeeNarcisi on Twitter.

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