Aerohive has unveiled its first access points (APs) capable of supporting 802.11ac – the latest IEEE Wi-Fi standard, which will provide speeds of up to 1.3Gbps. The new AP370 and AP390 access points are designed to simplify the migration to 802.11ac, which uses the 5GHz spectrum band. All previous Wi-Fi products use the 2.4GHz unlicensed band.
Speaking to Wireless, Matthew Gast, director of product development at Aerohive, (pictured below) said: ‘The new products are our first 802.11ac APs, which will drive dense deployments and make them significantly better. We’ve worked hard to integrate the new standard into the rest of our systems, so customers can mix Wi-Fi standards and migrate to 802.11ac at a rate that suits them.
‘Not everybody requires the high level of density that 802.11ac provides throughout their network. We describe it as ‘salt and pepper’ – customers will use 802.11n products everywhere and sprinkle 802.11ac APs where they are needed in high density hotspots,’ he said.
Customers are therefore able to update their networks incrementally without needing to pay for more equipment than is required. Aerohive has also upgraded its network operating system, HiveOS, to allow 802.11ac and 80211.n APs to auto-adjust and easily co-exist, further simplifying the choice of where and how to deploy 802.11ac.
Advantages of distributed architecture
Gast said one of the advantages of Aerohive’s solution is that it uses a distributed network architecture without the need for a controller or overlay network. This means customers do not need to worry about ensuring compatibility between different controllers. This makes migration much simpler as they also do not have to worry about the cost and complexity of upgrading their controllers or software.
‘The advantage of a distributed system is that the CPU in the AP can be designed to meet the needs of the product. We use more powerful CPUs to handle the increased computing power needed to handle the increased amount of packets being transmitted by 802.11ac networks,’ said Gast.
“If you use a controller based network you are continually trying to find the right balance. Either you invest in too much controller capacity for the needs of your network and so you are overpaying for some of the features; or you have too many APs for the controller to handle and have to upgrade. So, you are constantly fine tuning the network.
“But with Aerohive you can just add more APs as you need them. You can just plug them in and replace the old ones, like changing a light bulb, and gradually migrate to 802.11ac as demand determines. And because the intelligence is in the APs rather than the controller, you are adding capacity and processing power in the same ratio as you expand the network, so it remains in balance. This is the market context of what we were doing as we were designing the products,’ explained Gast.
Migration to 802.11ac
Predicting the adoption uptake of 802.11ac is tricky, but analysts think it will start slowly in 2013, picking up steam in 2014 and really take off in 2015. Gast notes that coincidentally or not 2015 is when the second wave of 802.11ac products will come to market. These will extend the standard’s capability by adding a fourth spatial stream and more importantly multi-user MIMO, which will allow an AP to transmit to several devices simultaneously.
What customers need to think carefully about now, according to Gast, is how best to prepare their current networks, or new networks, so that it is ready for an easy migration to a full 802.11ac network. ‘We saw this with the arrival of 802.11n,’ said Gast. ‘After a time you get a few generations of products on a particular Wi-Fi standard and they get gradually better – reduced power consumption, lower price points and so on.’
He continues: ‘A big part of what we are trying to do is educate people about what this transition means. It is much more than just achieving faster speeds. An element of tactical strategy needs to be employed when it comes to wireless networks and IT technology.
‘You have to plan and because the products come out in waves, if you want to use first generation 802.11ac equipment you want to make sure that the tactical strategy you use today doesn’t mess up what you want your network to do in 2015.’
Customers need to consider whether installing a wireless controller is viable for 802.11ac. What will the future backend requirements of the network look like? Are they building a new network from scratch? How fast do they think that 802.11ac will be adopted.? Greenfield v existing deployment? Do they need to deploy in remote sites? What is the cost of upgrading likely to be?
‘They need to think about what this means for their network as a whole. What about the power considerations, for example? Or how will they connect up the new 802.11ac APs to the rest of their network and how they plan their future upgrade path?’ said Gast.
‘They need to make it easy to use today without forcing them to do anything tomorrow. The biggest consideration is not to get locked into a decision that will make your next decision in 2015 difficult and expensive. You don’t want to throw everything you’ve installed now out in 2015.’
Processing power is an important consideration. Like other wireless networks, many Wi-Fi systems now provide administrators with the ability to see what is happening on the network in real time. In earlier Wi-Fi systems it was all about moving packets, but now deep packet inspection is needed if administrators are to see what devices are on the systems, what apps they are using and whether the device and the network has the capacity to handle what’s being asked of it.
‘Conceptually this is easy,’ said Gast, ‘but it’s harder to do engineering wise, as you have to analyse each packet and look deeper into it than before. To do that you need more power for packet searching and more power to enable the network to work efficiently.’
In terms of form factor Aerohive has overhauled the industrial design (the company employs professional industrial designers for this). The new APs have a ‘cool diamond shape’, according to Gast. ‘You can mount it at the intersection of a ceiling tile, so it is more invisible.’
AP370 and AP390 – key facts
Dual-radio 802.11ac/n high-performance, reliable 3x3 three spatial stream MIMO access points.
- Wireless capability up to 1.35Gbps aggregate data rates
- Radio 1 (802.11n) 2.4GHz 802.11b/g/n: 3x3:3 (450 Mbps)
- Radio 2 (802.11ac) 5GHz 802.11a/n/ac: 3x3:3 (1300 Mbps)
- 256-QAM, supports up to 80MHz channel for 5GHz
- 2x autosensing 10/100/1000 Ethernet ports – link aggregation, failover (redundancy)
- USB support for 3G/4G
- PoE 802.3at for maximum performance
- Performance optimised on legacy 802.3af (equivalent to 802.11n)
- Auto-detecting power to simplify migration from 802.3af to 802.3at
Gast pointed out that the two Ethernet ports allows the APs to be connected to two different switches. ‘A single Ethernet port is sufficient to handle the traffic load, but a lot of customers what more redundancy to ensure uninterrupted wireless services, which is the real reason for adding the second Ethernet port,’ he explained.
Gast added: ‘Aerohive has spent a lot of time trying to maximise standard power, but rather than trying to shut down applications, standard power running will give you the basics and you can then prioritise which applications you shut down to preserve transmission standards.
‘For example, you can take away the 80MHz channels, which means the 802.11ac AP then provides the same performance as an 802.11n AP. That way, you get the equivalent performance you’d get on your 802.11n network using standard power rather than having to resort to the expense of using higher power when the network demand doesn’t require you to.’
Gast observed that so far few customers are contemplating installing full 802.11ac networks. Instead, they are putting them in high density areas. ‘It is an adjunct to add capacity to existing networks.’
The new 802.11ac APs (pictured immediately above is the AP390 with external antennae; further above is the AP370 with internal antennae) and are shipping now. They have a list price of US$1,299.