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.
Meru Networks Inc.'s AP832 Access Point (AP), the vendor's first 802.11ac AP, has simple, clean lines, which disguises the amount of capability built in. Meru's claim to fame is a single-channel architecture that eliminates the need for traditional channel planning and roaming. This approach facilitates the dense AP deployments needed to accommodate increasing wireless access demand.
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Cisco Aironet 3700 AP
Notable features: The most interesting feature of Meru's AP832 is that both of the APs' radios can be configured for 802.11ac. Most enterprise-class APs include two radios, but one is usually locked on the 2.4 GHz band, which makes it useful only for 802.11g and 802.11n. The 802.11ac standard operates only on the relatively underused 5 GHz bands, and having two of these radios in a single AP means that legacy APs can be left in place undisturbed. This "overlay" strategy enables the deployment of significant 802.11ac capacity where it is needed -- a truly nondisruptive upgrade.
Device management of Meru access points takes place through the company's System Director console, and the AP832 automatically discovers all of Meru's WLAN controllers. Installation is essentially plug-and-play, once the management console and controller are configured as needed.
Meru has provisioned six internal antennas, and a version with six external antennas, the AP832e, is also available. It has also announced a two-stream (867 Mbps) AP, the AP822, which is suitable for lower-demand settings where a single 802.11ac channel is all that is required.
When operating in 802.11ac mode, the AP832 supports up to three spatial MIMO streams, or 1.3 Gbps peak over-the-air throughput per radio (2.6 Gbps total) in an 80 MHz channel. A broad range of Wi-Fi channels in the 5 GHz bands are supported, subject to local regulations. The flagship AP832 leads the industry in overall capacity. Coupled with a broad range of other features, it represents a serious alternative for firms adding new 802.11ac capacity.
Meru's claim to fame is a single-channel architecture.
Add-ons: Meru has steadily increased the overall functionality of its APs and controllers over the years via add-on software products. Additional AP832 capabilities include the E(z)RF Network Manager, Service Assurance Manager, Spectrum Manager, Identity Manager and intrusion protection, which can be used for both guest access and BYOD. These options are licensed separately but all are fully supported on the AP832.
Cautionary note: Be aware that some additional wiring and perhaps a few more Power over Ethernet (802.3af) switch ports may be required for the Meru AP832 product line. That said, it's reasonable to expect that many customers will require additional capacity, especially as the population of mobile users and bandwidth-hungry applications continues to grow. This growth, in combination with a ballooning number of devices per user, will continue to propel 802.11ac deployment. If needed, however, Meru's AP832s can also operate in the 2.4 GHz band, subject to the frequency's limitations.
The last word: The AP832 is aimed at larger installations -- enterprises, educational institutions, healthcare environments, hospitality or large retail organizations -- but it is no more difficult to set up and use than any other AP. As a result, it would be at home in essentially any business or organizational setting.
List price: $1,295, before volume or other discounts.
Next: Check out the Cisco Aironet AP review or go back to the WLAN How to Buy guide.