Aruba slashes price of 11n Wi-Fi access point

Aruba Networks Inc.’s new 802.11n Wi-Fi access point slashes prices for high performance wireless networks to the level of what some vendors are charging for equipment meeting the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers 802.11 wireless standards.

With its US$695 price tag, the new AP-105 is designed to entice enterprises to adopt or expand 11n deployments. It’s possible the list price could prompt price cuts from Aruba’s Wi-Fi rivals, though street prices more accurately reflect what enterprises fork over to vendors, especially in large-scale deployments.

The IEEE recently gave final approval to the 802.11n standard, which is intended to boost Wi-Fi data rates from 54Mbps to more than 100Mbps.

The Aruba AP-105 is a two-radio access point with a single gigabit Ethernet port and integrated, omni-directional antennas under the hood. The 5GHz band radio supports 802.11a/n, and the 2.4GHz band radio supports 802.11b/g/n. Each radio has a data rate of up to 300Mbps. In its documentation, Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Aruba pegs actual TCP throughput at 83Mbps over a 20MHz-wide channel in the 2.4GHz band, and 166Mbps over a 40MHz-wide channel in the 5GHz band.

“I am pretty certain that they have the lowest list price for a two-radio, enterprise AP on the market, but I can’t 100per cent confirm that,” says Paul DeBeasi, senior analyst covering wireless and mobility for technology research firm Burton Group. “I don’t think that a lower list price will cause Aruba to take market share away from Cisco. [But] I do think that Aruba’s price drop signals the beginning of lower 802.11n enterprise pricing at other vendors.”

The new model is not quite as low-priced as some Aruba products introduced earlier this year, but they were aimed at branch offices, home offices and similar enterprise outposts. The 105 model is intended for standard, large-scale enterprise networks.

According to Aruba’s documentation, the nearest rival based on list pricing for a comparable access point is Trapeze, followed by Motorola and Ruckus. In May, Meraki entered the small/midsize enterprise market with low-priced 802.11n access points, including a two-radio model for $800.

In broad terms, the new product is very similar to Aruba’s existing AP-124 and AP-125 11n products. Aruba is now cutting the prices on these products, from $1,295 to $995. These products differ from the new AP-105 in having two gigabit Ethernet ports instead of one, support for the pending 802.3at PoE standard as well as 802.3af, and different antenna configurations and options.

The changes in the 105 model lower costs but also create tradeoffs: No redundant connection to an alternative controller, and somewhat lower data rates at set distances (a lower “rate-vs-range”) compared with the higher-end products. Aruba’s documentation notes that when wall-mounted instead of ceiling mounted, the 105 model may see a “slightly reduced range.”

There are other, less obvious differences that also help Aruba reach the low price. And these, too, carry trade-offs for enterprise IT.

Currently, Wi-Fi certified access points send/receive two spatial streams, as part of the multiple input multiple output technology that underlies the high data rates for 802.11n. But access points can and do use different numbers of antennas to handle these two streams. The new AP-105 uses what Aruba calls a 2×2 configuration: one pair of antennas for each radio, two transmitting, two receiving. The 124 and 125 models use three pairs (three sending, three receiving), and all three are active, according to Michael Tennefos, Aruba’s head of strategic marketing.

The third antenna transmits a combination of the two streams, increasing the radio’s spatial diversity, which “is responsible for the slightly improved rate-vs-range performance of those access points,” Tennefos says. In addition, the 124 and 125 are slightly faster than the new AP-105.

The AP-105 also has a slower CPU than its cousins. According to Aruba, that means the 105 has a somewhat lower throughput for encrypted packets, when it’s used as a remote access point or as a mesh node, both functions enabled via Aruba software downloads. The 105 lacks federal FIPS 140-2 security certification, which the other two models have.

The smoke-detector-sized new model is actually slightly bigger than the other models, though thinner and at 10.5 ounces, nearly 5 ounces lighter.

The new AP-105 is fully compatible with the existing range of Aruba controllers. No controller software upgrades are needed. Like the other Aruba 802.11n access points, the new one has a trusted platform module to protect onboard credentials, and it supports Aruba’s Adaptive Radio Management function, which can force clients to use a different channel or band to optimize overall network performance. As with other Aruba products, the new one comes with the company’s lifetime warranty.

Aruba compares the 105 model with Cisco’s Aironet 1140, introduced in January 2009, and claims the same or slightly higher throughput performance at almost half the price.

But price is not the only factor in the decision-making process for IT departments, notes Burton Group’s DeBeasi. He identifies three main differentiators: radio management (How well does the vendor gives users a “wired LAN-like” experience in terms of performance, reliability and predictability?); security (Do you trust the vendor to thoroughly secure your WLAN?); and management (Does the vendor have quality management software and is it easy to use?).


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