First-generation 802.11ac access points have been on the market for about a year, but most enterprises regard them as a luxury. Gigabit Wi-Fi can ease bandwidth and density problems, but it is expensive. Aside from being more costly than access points supporting legacy standards -- like 802.11n -- 802.11ac access points need more power than most installed Power over Ethernet networks can supply. Many IT organizations also lack the resources necessary to re-architect their wireless infrastructure. Wi-Fi vendors have responded with easy-to-deploy, cost-effective 802.11ac options for businesses of any size.
Aerohive Networks and Meru Networks have announced new budget-friendly 802.11ac-capable access points that could help drive Gigabit Wi-Fi adoption for cost-conscious businesses.
"Many vendors are now coming out with 802.11ac options at, or close to, 802.11n pricing to drive adoption," said Bob Laliberte, senior analyst at Milford, Mass.-based Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG) Inc. "There is really no justification to stay with 802.11n when you can go with .11ac for the same, or even a lower, price."
802.11ac cost: Emerging access point options for businesses that won't break the bank
More mobile devices on the network are demanding additional Wi-Fi capacity and speed, but the power requirements and costs associated with 802.11ac products have inhibited adoption. Most 802.11ac access points have required more power than installed PoE infrastructure can provide, requiring any business deploying Gigabit Wi-Fi to also upgrade to switches that support 802.3at, an enhanced version of Power over Ethernet (PoE) known as PoE+.
Aerohive's new access point -- the AP230 -- offers three-stream Gigabit Wi-Fi, along with security and control in an "economical package" that allows enterprises to deploy 802.11ac functionality into the entire network infrastructure, said Joel Vincent, director of product marketing for Aerohive. The list price for the new access point is $799.
"There has been a price/performance decision enterprises have been struggling with -- especially when it comes to keeping in mind what an .11ac deployment will mean for the back end of the network," Vincent said.
Like all Aerohive access points, the AP230 uses Aerohive's Cooperative Control architecture, which means IT departments can avoid the cost of a controller appliance.
St. Andrew's Episcopal School, a Potomac, Maryland-based private school campus serving preschool through grade 12, will be rolling out Aerohive's AP230 technology this summer. The organization needed an affordable Wi-Fi environment that would address its density concerns, said Kevin O'Malley, chief information officer for St. Andrew's Episcopal School.
"Price -- especially for schools -- is always a factor, and we ended up going with .11ac with Aerohive instead of .11n," he said.
The organization's north campus -- consisting of two separate buildings housing grades 5-12 -- is a spacious and complicated layout designed much like a college campus, with separate science and fine arts buildings, O'Malley said. ".11ac will really help us with the speed and density we need -- especially for our one-to-one [technology] programs," he said.
St. Andrew's lower school for younger students is situated in an older, more traditional building on campus. Aerohive's Wi-Fi technology will also help address the problem associated with installing wireless through the walls, O'Malley said. "I really liked the ease of install [that] Aerohive offered, and flexibility of having independent access points that can function on their own without a controller," he said.
Meru Networks also unveiled new, inexpensive 802.11ac options at Interop 2014 in Las Vegas in order to help make Gigabit Wi-Fi an option for more businesses -- the dual-radio, dual-stream (2X2) access points -- the AP122 and the AP822.
The AP822, listed at $895, is a traditionally designed access point that will address general purpose 802.11ac deployments at an attractive price for enterprises, according to the company. The AP122's list price is $595. Its wall jack design -- similar to HP's latest access point, the HP 517 -- allows IT teams with limited experience to quickly and easily deploy .11ac technology.
802.11ac access points: Consider the power source
Aerohive and Meru are attempting to remove possible barriers to 802.11ac adoption, ESG's Laliberte said. They have built 802.11ac access points that work on existing PoE infrastructures and are charging prices that match or beat 802.11n access points. "If you have to buy new Wi-Fi access points, this new technology … means that buying .11ac should be a no-brainer," he said.
Aerohive's new AP230 works within the power limits of existing PoE infrastructure -- 15.4 W -- which will help businesses avoid expensive switching, cabling or power upgrades. Lowering power requirements on access points is a matter of picking the right components -- similar to creating energy-efficient switches -- or in some cases, sacrificing on operational functionality.
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"Enterprises shouldn't have to trade off capacity; with three streams, the AP230 is a high-end .11ac product that won't have IT wondering how to power [the access points] or if they will disrupt the rest of the enterprise's infrastructure," Aerohive's Vincent said.
Meru's two new dual-radio, dual-stream (2X2) access points -- the AP122 and the AP822 -- both take advantage of standard 802.3af PoE infrastructure, and can run on 15.4 W, as opposed to requiring PoE+'s 25.5 W of power. Meru's AP122 wall plate form factor can be fit over existing Ethernet infrastructure -- an attractive offering for hospitality and retail use cases, said Manish Rai, vice president of marketing for Meru.
"Especially in settings like hotels, there are often Ethernet ports in the room, but many new devices -- like tablets -- won't be able to connect to anything but Wi-Fi, and that [existing infrastructure] will go to waste," Rai said. "Since there is already existing cabling in hotel rooms, it's a matter of minutes to deploy the new AP122 on to top existing wall boxes."