Proxim Wireless has released its first draft-802.11n wireless LAN access points, with throughput ranging from 170M to 320Mbps and list price tags of US$800 and $1,100.
By themselves, those numbers may not be enough to draw enterprise users who have been aggressively wooed by rivals already in the market with 11n gear, such Aruba Networks, Cisco, Siemens and others. But Proxim says it's also cutting into the infrastructure costs associated with large-scale upgrades to 11n.
"We're finding that people are not upgrading to 11n because of the infrastructure barriers: the Power-over-Ethernet (PoE)limitations and the bottleneck of the [WLAN] controller," says Geoff Smith, vice president of products and marketing for Proxim.
Proxim is addressing both of those issues with the single-radio Orinoco AP-800 and the two-radio Orinoco AP-8000. First, they operate without having to be linked to separate and often costly WLAN controllers. Conceptually, it's similar to the approach taken by Aerohive Networks, whose products were among those evaluated in our recent 11n Clear Choice Test.
Secondly, both Proxim products can make use of existing 802.3af PoE systems with full 11n performance and features. Proxim chose the most recent power-conserving Atheros 11n radio chipset and a CPU from Freescale.
Because 11n is power hungry, some rivals have to trim performance, range or other functions to stay within the maximum 15+ watts supplied by 802.3af. The IEEE 802.3at standard, still in draft mode and not likely to be finally ratified until later in 2009, will boost the power to 24 watts or more -- at least double the power available. (Compare WLAN products.)
"They're mostly in-line with other vendors launching a solution based on later-term silicon," says Chris Silva, an analyst with Forrester Research. "As a result of working with newer silicon, they get support for full 3x3 [MIMO] over traditional PoE....From a pricing perspective, they seem to be offering a very competitive solution in terms of what other vendors are charging for centrally managed access points based on the draft [802.11n] standard."
But Proxim faces an uphill battle to persuade enterprises about the value of its autonomous access point approach. "The controller-based WLAN is how the majority of enterprises are rolling out or expanding their existing WLAN," Silva says. "In addition, as 802.11n brings more users to the WLAN as their primary network, [that is] a fact that seems to demand a central point of control, coordination of security and management as well as traffic prioritization and QoS."
Both products support 3x3 MIMO, or three simultaneous data streams. All the radios can be programmed to use either the 2.4GHz or 5GHz bands. Based on its own tests, the Orinoco AP-800 delivers 170Mbps of throughput and the Orinoco AP-8000 up to 320Mbps, according to Smith.
HP has just introduced a single-radio 11n product that's even less expensive at about $650: the ProCurve MSM410, based on its acquisition earlier this year of Colubris Networks.
In the 5GHz band, the new Proxim devices support Dynamic Frequency Selection (DFS), which lets the radio avoid certain channels when they are being used by certain military or commercial uses, such as radar. With DFS, the access point can use the full number of permitted channels in the 5GHz band.
The Orinoco AP-800 and AP-8000 are designed to use the same fittings as Proxim's existing 802.11abg products. Existing Proxim customers can detach the older access points, and replace them with the new ones, minimizing the need to run new Ethernet cable.
Microsoft deployed five of the new Proxim access points at a recent European developer conference and reported as many as 70 users per 11n radio, sharing peak throughput of 175Mbps on each radio, according to a Proxim press release.
The access points support the full range of enterprise WLAN security standards and protocols. The devices are managed via the Proxim Vision ES network management application.
More product details are available on Proxim's Web site.