HP Touts Greater Capacity of New 11n Wi-Fi Access Points

HP's new 802.11n Wi-Fi access points include two models that support three data streams, capable of yielding a data rate of 450Mbps per radio, or 900Mbps per access point. That translates into greater throughput, sustained over longer distances, compared with products that use two data streams.

HP says the high end of the new line can handle up to 50% more Wi-Fi clients or 50% greater bandwidth than 11n products with two data streams. All three of the new 400 series models, each with two radios, are aimed at the enterprise market. One is an entry-level 11n access point, with two data streams; the other two, both with three streams, differ only in their antenna configuration: One is built-in under the covers, the other has exterior fittings to mount directional antennas for greater range.

[THE WIRELESS EXPERIENCE: 802.11n Wi-Fi making huge impact 1 year after standard ratified]

The new access points also activate a range of optional radio management features in the 802.11n standard. Together, these let the access point and client exchange more information about the RF environment, and let the access point make a range of adjustments for a stronger, better-quality connection for each client.

As part of the new product rollout, HP also announced updated firmware, version 5.5, for its Multi Service Mobility (MSM) controller, and the 3.10 version of the Mobility Manager network management application.

The 802.11n standard separates the data stream into substreams, each corresponding to a separate transmit and receive antenna pairing between the client and the access point. More streams, and antenna pairs, means a greater data rate, and a greater resulting throughput; along with being able to sustain that throughput over longer distances. HP is using the latest 3x3 and 2x2 chips from Atheros for the new products.

The result is a Wi-Fi network that's more reliable, and creates better quality connections for more clients, even if the 11n clients only have two or even one antenna.

And that's been the experience of one beta site for the new HP 400 series: Glendale Community College, with three campuses in Glendale, Ariz., about 11 miles northwest of Phoenix. All three sites have been using older HP WLAN gear since 2008, 98 all told. They are a mix of 802.11abg, with newer 11n products installed in some high-traffic areas. The 11n devices exploit Gigabit Ethernet back to the LAN. The two remote locations use metro Ethernet WAN service back to the data center on the main campus.

About 5% of the 22,000 faculty, staff and students are regular Wi-Fi users, according to Joshua Krek, senior network administrator with the college's Office of Information Technology.

Last year, the college deployed a mix of all three new access points in high-use areas of the main campus, such as the student union building. There were eight in the beta test: the entry-level 430, the 460 with built-in radios, and the 466 with exterior antenna mounts, the latter for a mesh deployment covering some outside spaces.

Glendale's tests found that a single Wi-Fi client, a laptop, could easily see sustained throughput of "well over" 200Mbps per radio, or more than 400Mbps for each access point, for the 460 and 466 models, Krek says. That meant more throughput could be shared among the 20-30 clients typically associated with each access point.

And the throughput stayed high, and reliable, over much longer distances than before. The exterior mesh using the 466 models "still came close to 200Mbps" over a distance of about two football fields, roughly 750 feet. That was an almost ideal deployment: straight line-of-sight with no obstacles.

As are a growing number of WLAN vendors, HP has introduced with the newest 11n access points several radio optimization features that optional in the 802.11n standard. These include:

- Beam forming: Based on information from the client radio, the access point can adapt its transmit beam signal for a specific, individual client, optimizing the connection.

- Band steering: The access point can detect whether the client radio can run in the 5GHz frequency; if so, the access point can shift that client from 2.4 to 5GHz automatically. The higher frequency has more non-overlapping channels, can offer a larger number of combined channels for maximum throughput, and has less interference than 2.4GHz.

In addition, the 466 model, with exterior antennas, can support what HP calls "concurrent radio operation" in the 5GHz band, meaning both radios can be set to run in that band, without interfering with each other.

All three of the new products can support full 11n features and performance over existing 802.3af power-over-Ethernet infrastructures, according to Roger Sands, director of mobility solutions for HP Networking.

Mobility Manager 3.10 includes a range of improvements, many of them focused on client tracking and trouble-shooting, according to Sands. Network administrators now can see a history of a specific client's locations, and correlate those with Wi-Fi performance metrics, for example.

The new access points, updated controller firmware, and new release of the network management application are all available now.

The E-Series Multi Service Mobility (MSM) 430 has a U.S. list price of $699; the MSM460 and 466, with three spatial streams, list for $999. All three come with HP's lifetime warranty. More information can be found online at HP.

John Cox covers wireless networking and mobile computing for Network World.

Twitter: http://twitter.com/johnwcoxnww

E-mail: john_cox@nww.com

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