Wi-Fi equipment provider Xirrus announced major additions to its portfolio of wireless solutions this week (22 January 2013). The Xirrus XR-520 represents a new class of access point (AP) that delivers the advanced services of the Xirrus XR modular Array family in a low-cost, 2-radio AP option designed for smaller office spaces, class rooms, hotel guest rooms and hospital patient rooms.
Speaking to Wireless, Steven Wastie, chief marketing officer at Xirrus, (pictured) said: ‘Historically we have done large public venues like convention centres hosting a lot of users and devices all wanting to connect at the same time. But we’ve never had a lower end device for use by 10-20 people in smaller spaces.’
Xirrus already has a 2-radio array in the shape of the XR-1000, but this has directional antennas and a modular chassis, which allows you to swop the radios if you want to upgrade without having to rip out and replace the chassis. This brings many advantages, but comes at a cost.
The XR-520 has two omni-directional radios mounted on a fixed configuration, so unlike other Xirrus APs the radios cannot be swopped in and out. But by doing so Xirrus has brought the price point way down to ensure it is competitive in the smaller space user cases. However, the new AP does retain all the advance features and functionality of Xirrus’ other products
‘The advanced features are really key in this product and they are a big differentiator for us,’ Wastie explained. ‘You get the advanced feature set in a smaller package and this gives us the flexibility to go to parts of the market we’ve not been able to go to before.’
The advanced features include Application Control, a comprehensive application recognition and policy control engine that operates directly in each XR device. Application Control enables firewall, QoS, and rate-limiting policies to be enforced at an application level directly at the network edge, helping IT administrators manage the exploding wireless usage in today's BYOD environments to ensure that applications respond predictably when the network is under heavy load.
In addition, the XR-520 is the only software-programmable AP in its class with a radio that can run in either the 5GHz or 2.4GHz bands. This enables the AP to adapt to all 5GHz operation as the industry transitions from 2.4GHz-centric to 5GHz devices. This contrasts to traditional 2-radio APs that are fixed with one radio in each band with no provision to add more 5GHz support without adding more equipment.
‘It is the same OS,’ said Wastie. ‘It is not de-featured in anyway, which is typically what manufacturers end up doing when they go downstream. So now, if we go to a hotel and win the convention centre and meeting rooms, we can do the rooms too. Before we had 4- and 8- radio APs, but sometimes the user numbers didn’t justify deploying that size of AP. Now we have the flexibility to mix and match around the building.’
Wastie continued: ‘The other thing we’ve done is make it really easy to deploy and manage. What we’ve done is add a Cloud management capability in the new XMS 6.4 release, which we’ve not had before.’
XMS Cloud and Xirrus Activation Server
XMS Cloud is a new instance of the existing Xirrus Management System (XMS) in the shape of a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) deployment option for XMS. It provides customers with an option that delivers the full feature set of the existing on-premise offering without the need to maintain on-site equipment.
Xirrus has also introduced a new provisioning layer, the Xirrus Activation Server, a service that enables zero-touch provisioning and deployment of a Xirrus wireless network.
Wastie explained that previously a client would typically manage a Xirrus network by putting in a VM or appliance to manage the system themselves, or they might have a partner manage it on their behalf.
‘Now with XMS Cloud and the Xirrus Activation Server, we have introduced a capability where you deploy an AP on a ceiling and give it an Ethernet connection. The AP will then find the Activation Server in the Xirrus Cloud and based on a serial number it will download a license,’ said Wastie.
‘The download will also tell that individual AP where it needs to go to get its configuration, which may be an on-premise management server or it will go to the online portal in XMS Cloud and pull it down.
‘The AP will register itself with the management server and be instantly live – so you have zero touch configuration and zero touch provisioning, which is a big change for us,’ said Wastie.
Reduced deployment time
‘What this does is massively cut down the time to deploy the network,’ he continued. ‘Imagine if you have 500 APs across a large network, now you don’t have to touch any of them, which is a really big deal just from a usability standpoint. It probably cuts down provisioning time by up to 75% and that helps reduce OpEx.’
Wastie believes the XR-520 will be a winner commercially for Xirrus. ‘Why we will win, we think, is having that clear advanced features and benefit differentiation over and above any other 2-radio AP. It is economically viable for the smaller space user cases, but it comes without losing the benefits of Xirrus advanced features.’
The Xirrus XR-520, XMS 6.4, and zero-touch automated licensing capabilities are available February 2013. XMS Cloud is available initially in North America and in International markets mid 2013.
Wi-Fi market in 2013
Wastie sees 2013 as being a good one for Wi-Fi vendors as customers increasingly substitute Ethernet connections for wireless ones. He says everyone will continue to underestimate the amount of traffic and users on the network, while ICT managers will continue to struggle to manage not just BYOD, but people bringing their own applications into work too.
He also thinks that there will be a need to manage customer expectations as they switch from having personal 1Gb Ethernet connections providing 200Mb of bandwidth to using shared wireless AP connections where they will only get 2-3Mb. ‘People will be disappointed, so networks will need to be upgraded to meet expectations and demand,’ said Wastie.
Wastie also sees Wi-Fi continuing to become a legitimate part of the access layer with mobile carriers, while the application layer will grow. Customers, such as hotel, convention and stadium owners will not just want to provide Wi-Fi access to customers; they will want to use if for their own applications and find ways to monetise it by selling services to their customers.