Editor's Note: With Wave 1 of the Gigabit Wi-Fi standard 802.11ac ratified and 802.11ac access points hitting the market, our cut-to-the-chase product reviews are designed to help you decide whether it's time to upgrade your WLAN APs and which features are most important in your organization. Click HERE for our WLAN 802.11ac buying overview designed to help you kick off your buying process.
The Cisco Aironet 3700 series of 802.11ac wireless-LAN access points represents the pinnacle of Cisco's current WLAN product line. The Aironet series is about as high-end as an access point can get in the market at this time. Let's look at why.
Notable features: Cisco has done a lot of custom engineering on the 3700 series, beginning with a purpose-built chipset designed just for this product. Two radios are provisioned; one supports the 2.4 GHz band (up to 450 Mbps 802.11n) and the other supports the 5 GHz band, with up to 1.3 Gbps when in 802.11ac mode.
The Cisco Aironet 3700 AP has four transmit and four receive antennas to take advantage of the current upper-bound limit of three MIMO streams for 802.11ac (which eventually will be increased to four, six and finally eight streams). It is referred to as a 4x4:3 product. Available 3700 products include the 3700i with four internal antennas and the 3700e with four external antennas. A special version of this unit, the 3700p, is equipped with narrow-beam antennas and designed for high-density deployments. The 3700 series is the successor to the Cisco 3600 series, which pioneered the form factor and overall feature set implemented in the 3700.
Standard features include ClientLink 3.0, which optimizes beamforming for clients based on 802.11ac, as well as for earlier 802.11 standards; cross-AP noise reduction, which enables a larger number of clients to connect by minimizing interference between 3700s; optimized AP roaming, which attempts to find the connection for a given client with the highest available data rate; and CleanAir, which implements spectral analysis across both the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands. Both standalone and controller-based versions are available; the only distinction is different firmware for each case.
Cisco has done a lot of custom engineering on the 3700 series .
Add-ons: The truly differentiating feature of the Cisco 3700 is its expansion port, a proprietary connector that opens up possibilities for functional enhancements and investment protection going forward. A Wireless Security Module and a 3G Small Cell Module are available now, with a Wave 2 802.11ac module planned for 2015. The Wireless Security Module includes support for CleanAir, Cisco's Wireless Intrusion Prevention System, rogue detection, interference detection and radio resource management. Cisco designed the 3G Module to enable cellular operators to simplify in-building, small-cell deployments. It's easy to see how a wide variety of functions could be implemented via this connection, which proved to be very popular on the preceding 3600 series.
Cisco has specialized in large wireless-LAN installations for a long time and claims it can support up to 18,000 access points with full Layer 3 (IP) mobility across local and remote sites as part of its Cisco Unified Wireless Network. The company can also claim one of the most robust wired network offerings available, as well as a long history in networking itself. A broad and complete documentation set is available online.
The last word: As a product designed primarily for large-scale deployments, the Cisco Aironet 3700 can be challenging to understand, configure and manage. This is not an AP for small deployments, though Cisco has other products for midmarket and smaller-scale installations. But for end-user organizations (and, as noted above, even cellular carriers) looking for a very broad range of robust, highly flexible and scalable functionality, the 3700 is likely going to make the short list.
List Price: $1,495 before volume or other discounts.