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Cisco overcomes 11n AP power, form-factor issues

Cisco has tackled the power-consumption and form-factor criticisms of its hefty Aironet 1250 Series Access Point in a new pre-standard 802.11n AP platform, officially announced this week. The new Draft N Aironet 1140 Series Access Point, shipping since last month, functions within the standard 802.3af Power over Ethernet (PoE) budget while offering a lighter, more aesthetic design for indoor installation. The unit is also slated to gain a proprietary beam-forming capability in April called ClientLink, which Cisco says improves performance of legacy 802.11a/g client devices operating in an 802.11n infrastructure environment.

The 1140 will become Cisco’s mainstream 802.11n offering for indoor environments. At less than half the weight of the 1250, it should be easier to install. The 1250 will persevere as a ruggedized product for outdoors or other harsh environments such as warehousing and logistics, says Chris Kozup, manager for mobility marketing at Cisco.

The 1140 is “an expansion of our 11n portfolio, not a replacement,” Kozup assures. About 175,000 Cisco Aironet 1250 Draft N products have shipped to date, he says.

The 1250 is physically reminiscent of a mutant ant from a “B” movie, with its 5 pound-plus body and external antennas the size of Alaskan King Crab legs. By contrast, the new 1140 weighs 2.3 pounds with the antennas housed inside, unseen.

At least as important to Cisco customers as weight and aesthetics is that the 1140 dual-radio product works within the power budget of existing 802.3af standard PoE switches (12.95 Watts sustained over 100 meters). By contrast, the 1250 consumes 18.5 Watts and thus requires alternative sources of power. Aside from the obvious green benefits of less power, there are many companies that have fairly recently installed 802.3af infrastructures and can’t afford to upgrade again to prestandard 802.3at PoE equipment or install other power alternatives yet.

Southeast Alabama Medical Center in Dothan, Ala., an early 1140 shop, had been stalling its deployment of an 802.11n infrastructure because of the 1250’s form factor and power consumption, says Scott Lapham, network engineer. It had tested Cisco Aironet 1252s and reported a 65% performance increase over its 802.11a network. But Lapham says the 1252s “were big and bulky, so I was dragging my feet on deploying 802.11n.

“The only way I could justify 1252s would be to put a unit above the [ceiling], with extra flush-mount antennas. With 500 APs, it would have been a tremendous challenge getting them all mounted that way.” He added.

Link beamforming, embedded in Cisco silicon, tracks the location of 802.11a and 11g devices on a per-signal, per-packet basis and directs signals to them, Kozup says. It will become a feature in a collection of new and existing Cisco mobility capabilities branded M-Drive Technology as part of Cisco Unified Wireless Network Release 6.0 software in April.

Erik Parker, senior wireless infrastructure analyst at Toyota Motor Sales, has tested ClientLink and says he has seen a “few megabits” per second increase in 11g network performance, which he considers significant. The majority of his company’s laptops support 802.11g, while 35% of them support 802.11n with Intel chipsets.

“We have to keep the G devices till 2012 when heir lifecycle ends, so our G laptops are just as important as our N laptops,” he says.

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