Outdoor 11n Wi-Fi gear grabs spotlight

* Motorola, Trapeze build outdoor mesh APs

A big focus for Wi-Fi makers these days is on building equipment that supports high-speed outdoor network applications. For example, there are enterprises that want to extend their wireless LANs outdoors. There are municipalities with wireless public safety and city service applications. And there are service providers wanting to build hot spots that offload data traffic from 3G networks that are quickly growing saturated.

All of these applications could benefit from 802.11n's 150Mbps+ throughput, and the formal ratification of the .11n standard last month has opened the floodgates.

Following Ruckus Wireless' announcement of a $1,999 outdoor 802.11n mesh access point (AP) and Proxim Wireless launching high-speed backhaul bridges in July, Motorola and Trapeze Networks introduced outdoor mesh dual-radio 802.11n APs earlier this month.

Motorola also announced a point-to-point Ethernet bridge for backhaul applications that operates in licensed spectrum and is slated to ship by year-end.

On the mesh AP side of things, Motorola's $4,899 AP-7181, also to ship by December, is targeted largely at Moto's existing municipality and public safety customers that fancy running wireless automated meter reading, intelligent traffic monitoring, wireless video security and in-vehicle applications.

For its part, Trapeze Networks sees its $3,995 MP-632 as being used for extending enterprise, university and government networks outdoors. It can operate in AP or bridge mode, according to the company.

Both companies have addressed specialized antenna needs: Motorola uses dual polarized directional antennas to cover greater distances and increase throughput at range, and Trapeze offers four different antenna kits to match application requirements -- the kits contain omni, two types of directional and Yagi antennas, respectively. 

Note that relative newcomer Meraki makes the MR58, announced back in February, which is a $1,499-and-up three-radio 802.11n mesh outdoor device. Meraki is the start-up that puts WLAN controllers in the cloud in a Wi-Fi service form factor.

The company also makes the Meraki Solar ruggedized Wi-Fi b/g mesh device, and we can only hope that it someday supports 802.11n, too. What's so convenient about Meraki Solar is that it sidesteps the problem of powering APs in out-of-the-way places where it's hard to run power lines. The APs mount on roofs, walls, poles or other surfaces and power themselves via sun exposure.

Other vendors have been selling outdoor mesh Wi-Fi APs for some time supporting the older 802.11a/b/g protocols. Among them are Cisco, with its Aironet 1520 series APs, and Proxim, with its AP-4000M, which can support 2.4GHz and 5GHz radios or 4.9GHz public-safety-band radios. Proxim says that .11n mesh outdoor APs are on its roadmap, as well as a version of its recently announced Tsunami QB-8100 backhaul bridge with an 802.11n radio integrated into it.

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