Extreme Networks is adding its first 802.11ac-enabled Wi-Fi outdoor access point to its IdentiFi wireless LAN portfolio, allowing enterprises to expand gigabit Wi-Fi speeds outside the four walls of an office.
Extreme's recently publicized outdoor 802.11n Wi-Fi installations – including in NFL stadiums nationwide -- have highlighted the vendor's ability to scale to meet the needs of large public venues, conference centers and higher-education campus environments. The latest 3865e series 802.11ac wireless LAN outdoor access point will provide users in large campuses or venues an undisrupted Wi-Fi experience as they move in and out of buildings with their mobile and wearable Wi-Fi devices in tow.
Outdoor access point: Connecting the campus
Extreme's new 3865e 802.11ac outdoor access point offers the same advanced features that its indoor wireless access points support, such as band steering and airtime fairness, said Mike Leibovitz, director of mobility and applications at Extreme Networks. Even though the outdoor access point has been designed for harsher environmental conditions -- complete with an external antenna and lightening protectors -- it has the same software as its indoor counterparts. All of Extreme's 802.11ac functionality that is provided indoors -- such as analytics, guest use policies and location-based services -- can also be provided outdoors, he said.
"Enterprises can mix and match capabilities, too, like outside users can have certain types of access, depending on who the user is and what device they are using," he said. "The new access point is extending the same [indoor Wi-Fi] features to the outside world."
The new backwards-compatible 3865e has additional features that a typical indoor access point does not, including static and dynamic meshing, as well as point-to-point for connecting the networks of separate buildings, Leibovitz said. "802.11ac gives you that increased capacity and speed to transmit point-to-point, [and] drive wireless traffic between two buildings, even if they aren't very close to each other," he said.
Oral Roberts University (ORU) in Tulsa, Oklahoma has been using Extreme -- formerly Enterasys -- routers and switches for the past five years. It uses Meru Networks for its indoor 802.11n Wi-Fi infrastructure. The school's 3,000 students have relied on mobile carriers for outdoor connectivity.
"Wi-Fi used to be a convenience for the students, [but] today the demand for Wi-Fi coverage everywhere [on campus] is extremely high," said Michael Mathews, CIO of ORU. "Students want to be able to use their devices anywhere on campus, [and] ORU would like to provide the same experience for a Wi-Fi user across the campus."
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Building an outdoor wireless LAN for a roving worksite
To offer a more consistent user experience for faculty and staff, ORU is planning to switch Wi-Fi vendors and expand its wireless environment to outdoor areas on campus, Mathews said.
The university has begun a small beta test with Extreme's 802.11ac technology, with a full rollout scheduled to begin this fall. ORU plans to deploy 802.11ac in its dorm buildings first for students -- where Wi-Fi demand is the greatest -- followed by outdoor coverage for students and facility, Mathews said.
"[During the] proof of concept, we have noticed quite a bit of improvement with the new Extreme [802.11ac] gear compared to our existing wireless infrastructure," Mathews said, including no disconnection issues, faster download speeds, and better back-end management for the gigabit Wi-Fi infrastructure, he said.
Consistent wireless LAN management indoors and outdoors
Enterprises have learned that users have much higher expectations for their mobile experience than they used to, even when moving from indoor to outdoor environments. "IT has the opportunity to exceed those expectations," Extreme's Leibovitz said, because the Extreme IdentiFi outdoor wireless LAN portfolio helps target the even more challenging, highly dense environments.
IT, like users, also wants a unified experience when it comes to managing outdoor Wi-Fi environments, said Bob Laliberte, senior analyst at Milford, Massachusetts-based Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG) Inc.
Network admins can manage Extreme's indoor and outdoor access points from the same interface. "Some environments, like college campuses or sports stadiums, are quasi-indoor/outdoor environments," he said. "When you're sitting in your seat, you're outside, but when you're at a concession stand or in lower levels of the stadium walking around, you're indoors, so venues are going to want to have that seamless experience and continuity for users as they move around."