Two wireless LAN vendors are targeting the next big explosion in Wi-Fi growth: hotspots and hotzones created by carriers and other services providers.
[SHOW UPDATE: Hottest products at Mobile World Congress 2013]
Both Ruckus Wireless and Aruba Networks this week at the Mobile World Congress Show in Barcelona outlined products aimed at this provider market. The goal is to be part of a crystalizing of hardware and software that can integrate Wi-Fi with core mobile networks.
As part of its reference design for carrier-based Wi-Fi services, Ruckus announced a new family of outdoor 802.11n access points, the ZoneFlex 7782 series. Four models offer different internal and external antenna configuration options. All have three transmit and three receive antennas supporting three data streams for a maximum data rate of 900Mbps. All three have Ruckus' patented BeamFlex adaptive antenna technology, designed to boost gain and reduce interference. There's also a GPS receiver, which service providers can leverage for location-based services.
Deliberately bland in design, the new Ruckus ZoneFlex 7782 outdoor access point aims at high-performance carrier Wi-Fi networks: dual-band, 3-stream 802.11n with a data rate of nearly 1Gbps.
The company also unveiled a Wi-Fi traffic analysis application for carriers, called the SmartCell Insight analytics engine, which runs on Ruckus' Smartcell 2000 Gateway, which bridges Wi-Fi and cellular networks. The software sifts out a wealth of data about access point usage, bandwidth, subscriber activity and other metrics, and packs them into a data warehouse. Pre-written and custom reports translate the raw data into information about how well the Wi-Fi network is performing. A battery of standard APIs let carriers export the information to existing data-mining tools and interface with core network applications.
Finally, Ruckus announced SmartPoint, which adds to the ZoneFlex 7321-U access point a USB port that can accept a 3G, 4G, or WiMAX external dongle. The idea is to quickly and easily create a wireless backhaul option where a cable isn't possible (such as a city bus). Ruckus automatically pushes to the access point the needed driver software for specific 3G/4G/WIMAX dongles. KDDI in Japan, with an extensive WiMAX network, can offer shop owners a Ruckus access point for hotspot Wi-Fi, with a WiMAX dongle for easy backhaul to the Internet.
Both the 7782 outdoor access point, priced at $3,000, and Smartpoint, at $400 are available now; the analytics application, with pricing based on the size of the network, will ship in the second quarter.
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Aruba's carrier play
Aruba, too, is recasting its WLAN architecture via software updates to address carrier requirements for creating a high-capacity, secure and reliable Wi-Fi service for mobile subscribers.
Dubbed Aruba HybridControl, the new code gives Aruba's 7200 Mobility Controller massive scalability. Aruba says the software update will let the 7200 manage over 32,000 hotspots. That translates into over 100,000 individual access points, because each hotspot can have several of the vendor's Aruba Instant access points. The scaling lowers carriers' backend capital costs, cuts data center power demand, and needs less rack space, according to Aruba. The Aruba Instant model offloads cellular traffic locally to the Internet, while centralizes selected traffic such as billing and legal intercept via an IPSec connection to the 7200 controllers at the core.
HybridControl offers "zero-touch activation" for factory-default access points, with no need for any manual pre-provisioning. Switched on, these access points interface with the Aruba Activate cloud service to discover the carrier's configuration management system and download it. Then, the access points use an assigned X.509 certificate to authenticate with an Aruba controller and set up an IPSec tunnel.
The HybridControl architecture leverages existing Aruba features such as:
- AppRF, to identify and prioritize real-time applications, such as Microsoft Lync, to create different classes of service;
- ClearPass Policy Management, a server application to authenticate new access points joining the mobile core network.
The carrier-focused HybridControl offering includes several products: the Aruba 7200 Mobility Controller, available now with prices starting at $38,000; Aruba Instant access points, available now with prices starting at about $400; Aruba Activate, available now and free of charge for Aruba customers. The software update for the 7200 will be available as a free Aruba OS upgrade in the second quarter.
John Cox covers wireless networking and mobile computing for Network World.