A Wi-Fi wallplate from Extreme Networks promises a simple way to expand 802.11n deployments, with plenty of power to reach battery-operated wireless tablets and smartphones.
Extreme Networks has introduced a specially designed Wi-Fi access point about the size of an iPhone, replacing an Ethernet wallplate in less than two minutes, and acting as a controller to 24 other units. The goal is simplifying 802.11n deployments, cutting their costs, and creating a Wi-Fi network tailored to the unique demands of wireless smartphones and tablets, says the company.
The Altitude 4511, designed and built for Extreme by Motorola Solutions, has a single, powerful 400mWatt, 2x2 802.11n radio, which can run on either the 1.2- or 5-GHz bands. Motorola borrowed from a reference design by Wi-F chipmaker Atheros, modified the radio architecture, and designed a special antenna that folds into the compact device but can cover, with varying throughput rates, up to eight to 10 hotel rooms, according to Andrew Peters, Extreme's director of enterprise solutions marketing.
Enterprises are shifting their WLAN strategies, choosing to upgrade to the much higher throughput of 802.11n and at the same time creating wireless networks that are all-pervasive. Ironically, one of the most expensive parts of a Wi-Fi network is running Ethernet cabling and sometimes electrical wiring. This upgrade push is taking place as users outfit themselves with a growing number of battery-powered wireless devices, such as smartphones and tablets, which run Wi-Fi radios at much lower power than laptop or desktop PCs.
Peters ran into these challenges on a recent trip to Amsterdam. In his hotel, he was on a Skype call, via his laptop which had a strong connection to the hotel's WLAN. But his iPad, sitting next to the laptop, found no signal whatsoever. He says he finally found one by standing on the coffee table and holding the tablet on outstretched arm near the ceiling.
The Altitude wallplate was created to meet these challenges. Peters says it takes less than two minutes to remove an Ethernet wallplate and replace it with the Altitude device. Optional models can feature an Ethernet jack or other interface, or a three-port Ethernet switch, which simply makes for a slightly thicker wallplate.
The software is based on Motorola's Wireless Next Generation (WiNG) WLAN system software. One Altitude access point can act as a controller for up to 24 similar devices. The radio can also be centrally controlled to act as an RF monitor and spectrum analyzer. The access point supports 802.1X, intrusion detection and a firewall.
The closest rival is Ruckus Wireless' similar Zoneflex 7025 access point, the specs for which list the RF power output at 16 dBm. Extreme says its Altitude product's output is much stronger at 26 dBm. Aruba Networks has a similar design for its AP-65WB product, but it supports only 802.11abg, not 11n.
The RF power boost is important, Peters says, because tablets and smartphones have both less transmit power for sending signals and less sensitivity to receiving them.
When used in conjunction with Extreme's switches, running the vendor's ExtremeXOS system software, the Altitude devices can leverage a range of network services, including Extreme's identity management, access control and auto-configuration services.
The Altitude access points are being offered in a 12-unit bundle, along with Extreme's Summit X450e switch with 24 PoE ports. List price starts at $7,000. Individual access points are "in the low $200 range" according to Extreme. The product will be available in quantity starting Oct. 1.
John Cox covers wireless networking and mobile computing for Network World.
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