Aruba Networks Inc. has introduced the first outdoor 802.11ac access point series for high-speed outdoor wireless networks at schools, resorts and large public venues.
Enterprises need to provide a consistent, sustainable Wi-Fi experience to their users both indoors and outdoors. In the past, IT organizations have offloaded outdoor Wi-Fi access to carriers, but they are insourcing that infrastructure to apply more uniform network security policies across indoor and outdoor networks, especially as more performance-sensitive applications and higher densities of mobile devices join the wireless network.
While outdoor wireless coverage will almost always be a secondary wireless LAN requirement for businesses, there is a growing need to supplement indoor Wi-Fi with outdoor coverage, especially for some industries -- including healthcare, education and retail.
"Certain enterprises need to provide ubiquitous wireless coverage for their entire campus -- They don't want the experience to be limited to one building," said Rohit Mehra, vice president of network infrastructure research at Framingham, Mass.-based IDC.
Outdoor wireless access point infrastructure compliments indoor Wi-Fi coverage
Aruba's new outdoor 802.11ac access point -- the 270 Series -- includes two models: the Aruba AP-274 with external dual-radio antennas, and the Aruba AP-275 with integrated antennas. Both outdoor access points have a compact design and a weather-proof enclosure free of oversized antennas. The inconspicuous design of the new AP 270 Series allows the WLAN to provide continuous coverage while better blending into outdoor environments -- a requirement for some organizations and municipalities, said Husnain Bajwa, distinguished engineer for Aruba.
The Aruba AP-274 and AP-275 are equipped with single-screw mounting brackets, which will reduce installation complexity for IT. Unlike many outdoor WLAN access points on the market, the Aruba 270 Series -- built to withstand temperatures between -40 degrees and 140 degrees Fahrenheit -- does not require fans for cooling or heating elements to prevent equipment failure, the company said.
The introduction of 802.11ac-capable devices is spurring the need for some organizations to refresh their wireless networks. While there are many outdoor 802.11n-enabled access points currently on the market, the market has lacked an outdoor 802.11ac access point with the performance, reliability and design elements necessary to be successful, Bajwa said.
"802.11ac is reclaiming the power position of Wi-Fi over LTE [carrier networks] with a higher sustained throughput per client, but … there's a significant gap in the market for organizations deploying indoor .11ac technology and [those that] want to see complimentary technologies deployed across the entire network," he said.
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The University of the South in Sewanee, Tenn., has 1,600 students and about 2,000 devices on campus each day. The university has recently upgraded its infrastructure with 600 new indoor 802.11n-enabled Aruba access points across its 13,000-acre campus -- with plans to supplement with 802.11ac when needed -- and also purchase Aruba 270 Series access points to provide more outdoor Wi-Fi services and coverage for students and faculty, said Geno Schlichting, wireless network engineer for the University of the South.
Schlichting and his team are in the process of replacing the university's legacy outdoor Wi-Fi vendor with Aruba's outdoor 802.11ac access points. The legacy outdoor equipment -- which was difficult to install -- has not given users a consistent level of performance compared with what they receive indoors. "The [270 series] access points are less obtrusive and have a higher client count capability, so we should be able have the performance we are looking for, while getting away with deploying less [access points]," he said.
The newly deployed Aruba WLAN technology and operating system will allow the IT team to manage both their indoor and outdoor WLANs together. The university is looking forward to using the new outdoor Wi-Fi to broadcast games for alumni right from the football field and lacrosse complex, Schlichting said.
Consistent WLAN management across all indoor, outdoor 802.11ac access points
Aruba's WLAN controllers can manage both the outdoor 270 Series and its indoor access points, an option that makes sense for enterprises that might have outdoor spaces that require the same security feature set as their indoor environment, IDC's Mehra said.
Bandwidth intensive applications -- such as voice and video -- are also creating a need for "campus extension," which requires the replication of the indoor wireless experience seamlessly to outdoor environments, Aruba's Bajwa said.
"All enterprise security services and quality-of-service technologies need to be able to move with the users and be maintained, even if they are moving outdoors," he said.