With Xirrus Inc.'s new dual-radio, XR-630 access point, the wireless LAN vendor is taking a different approach to supporting the soon-to-be-ratified 802.11ac standard from many of its competitors. The new 802.11ac access point can isolate high-speed, 802.11ac-enabled clients on both of its radios and separate them from lower-speed clients using Xirrus' new ACExpress Wi-Fi "load balancing" technology.
Many wireless LAN (WLAN) vendors are building dual-radio 802.11ac, or "gigabit Wi-Fi," access points, with one 5 GHz-only radio that supports 802.11ac and the other that supports 802.11n and other legacy standards that operate at 2.4 GHz. The majority of Wi-Fi clients on enterprise networks today are 802.11n or older, so building 802.11ac access points with 802.11n radios makes sense.
Enterprises can run Xirrus' programmable XR-630 in this dual-mode configuration, but as they transition away from legacy Wi-Fi standards, the access point can be programmed to run both radios in 802.11ac, giving customers more throughput than from running competing access points.
Xirrus's XR-630 access point is "different [from] most in the market in that each [radio] is capable of equivalent functionality," said Jim Berenbaum, research director of mobility, wireless and network technologies for Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner Research Inc. "[XR-630] also allows higher-speed and lower-speed clients to be grouped onto two separate radios so they won't impact each other."
Xirrus' 802.11ac access point grows with the enterprise
The XR-630 802.11ac access point uses Xirrus' ACExpress protocol to separate high-speed and low-speed Wi-Fi clients while maximizing the performance of all devices on the network, said Bruce Miller, vice president of product marketing for Thousand Oaks, Calif.-based Xirrus. In addition to being programmable, the cloud-managed XR-630 access point can also make intelligent decisions regarding which channel each radio should operate on without IT intervention.
Most dual-radio 802.11ac access points on the market today only "half support" .11ac -- a 5 GHz-only technology -- with half of the access point going up to 1.3 Gbps on the 5 GHz channel to support .11ac capabilities. The second radio on these access points typically supports legacy standards and realistically only gets about 225 Mbps off of those radios, Miller said. "The XR-630 can run .11ac on both radios, giving enterprises 1.3 GB times two, as opposed to 1.3 GB plus 225 Mb -- users can get much more bandwidth out of the access point," he said.
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Xirrus' dual-radio access point has a flexible architecture, allowing enterprises to future-proof their WLAN, Gartner's Berenbaum said. Enterprises can purchase the XR-630 as an 802.11n access point, and then software-enable the offering down the road to support 802.11ac.
Enterprises can also program both radios on the XR-630 to use the 2.4 GHz band, program one radio to operate on the 5 GHz channel and the other on the 2.4 GHz band, or even program both radios to operate on the higher-frequency 5 GHz band in the future, depending on their needs as they grow and new devices come onto the network, he said. "IT can migrate their network slowly over to .11ac as the clients they are supporting change over time."
The XR-630 also comes equipped with dual Gigabit Ethernet ports, ensuring that all that wireless capacity isn't wasted, said Rohit Mehra, vice president of network infrastructure research at Framingham, Mass.-based IDC.
"As enterprises move forward and the market moves to Wave 2, the capabilities on these radios have to continue to increase," he said. "If an [access point] has one gigabit link, then capacity will be throttled back by the cable connecting it to the network."
ACExpress: WLAN load balancing, fairness for all devices
Xirrus' ACExpress also differentiates the new access point by offering an alternative to the "airtime fairness" approach that many WLAN vendors take with Wi-Fi design, Gartner's Berenbaum said. While airtime fairness allows faster clients to have more airtime than slower clients, ACExpress allows all devices to have the same access and resources.
Xirrus' ACExpress protocol acts as a WLAN "load balancer," IDC's Mehra said. The technology allows the IT team or the access point to detect and intelligently "balance," or separate out, faster devices that may need access to faster speeds onto a separate radio, but the protocol doesn't specifically cater to .11ac clients. "IT can program the access points to support more clients with whatever band is needed and optimize performance for .11ac as well as .11n devices," he said.