The latest in a long line of wireless LAN standards is here: 802.11ac. Of course, the official standard from the IEEE is not yet certified, but product availability in advance of this milestone, aided by an interoperability specification from the Wi-Fi Alliance, has become the norm for wireless LANs. And 802.11ac is a major step forward, with many current products offering 1.3-gigabit-per-second throughput.
Most enterprise-class vendors are now shipping 802.11ac access points, and Meru Networks recently announced its first, the AP832. Whereas the 1.3Gbps specification seems to be the main distinction of 802.11ac offerings, this Meru AP stands out for many reasons.
Meru bills the AP832 as the world's fastest AP, and with good reason. Other APs incorporate dual radios, but only one radio is 802.11ac-compliant. The other standard, 802.11n, typically is locked to the 2.4 gigahertz band. Most institutions have appropriate infrastructure addressing 2.4GHz already in place, and there's little point in replacing those APs, given the need to continue to support 802.11n and perhaps even 802.11g clients for the foreseeable future.
The best approach, then, especially given the relative underdeployment of 5GHz 802.11ac and 802.11n, is to maximize the availability of services at 5GHz — a nondisruptive overlay strategy. The 832 does just that, providing two 1.3Gbps 802.11ac radios that can operate simultaneously in up to 80-megahertz channels. (2.4GHz operation for both radios is also supported, as is 5GHz 802.11n.)
Meru offers a broad range of architectural and enterprise-class features suited to campus settings, including support for the Bonjour protocol (critical with so many consumer-grade wireless devices), application prioritization (what Meru calls "context-aware layers"), and Virtual Cell, Meru's implementation of zero-latency handoff.
Why It Works for IT
We tested the external-antenna AP832e with a Meru MC1550 wireless LAN controller. Product documentation is detailed and easy to follow, and setup takes only a few minutes. While Meru bills the 832 as perfect for high-density/high-demand situations, it may be desirable to monitor for unauthorized use of 802.11ac in advance of a formal deployment to minimize RF interference and rogue APs. That can be accomplished only with
devices equipped with 802.11ac radios, such as the 832.
The 832 runs on standard 802.3af Power over Ethernet, a big plus when many vendors are relying on the more powerful but still less common 802.3at. With the price only $100 more than a similar 802.11n unit, the 832 could be deployed to provide assurance monitoring or 802.11n service now, with eventual cutover to 802.11ac when appropriate. It is likely that 802.11n clients will experience higher throughput with 802.11ac, thanks to advances in radio architecture and implementation, as well as such standard features as beamforming.
Apart from being priced slightly higher than 802.11n APs, there really is no downside here. (A version with internal antennas also is available.) Higher ed institutions everywhere are going to need to begin working with 802.11ac in the very near term, and Meru's AP832 is a great way to do so.