Aruba Networks has released its first products that utilise the latest generation of Wi-Fi technology, 802.11n.
Products that are based on 802.11n will initially offer theoretical data throughput of 300Mbps: far greater than the preceding generation, 802.11g.
Aruba's products — access points (APs) and mobility controllers — are being launched despite the fact that 802.11n may only be ratified by standards body the IEEE as an official standard as late as 2009.
Current 802.11n products fall under "Draft 2.0" of the technology's specification — a nomenclature designated by the Wi-Fi Alliance after pressure from those of its members who were keen to go to market prior to full ratification.
"Our new products make it possible to deliver unified mobile applications that conventional wired and wireless networks simply cannot tackle due to architectural, integration, security or performance limitations," said Aruba's head of products and partnership, Keerti Melkote, on Monday. "These applications include, among others, high-security all-wireless workplaces with no cabling, call management between Wi-Fi and cellular networks, and securely extending the enterprise network to remote users without VPNs or managed clients."
Roger Hockaday, Aruba's head of marketing for the EMEA region, warned last month against the deployment of 802.11n — outside certain specialised circumstances — before further improvements are made to the technology's power management and drivers.
However, speaking to ZDNet.co.uk on Thursday, Hockaday insisted that 802.11n was in fact more reliable than its predecessors. "One thing that 802.11n enables is better coverage and greater reliability, because its multiple data streams reflect [the signal]. It is more than fast enough for your average user [but particularly useful] if you're doing high graphics or designing oil rigs."
Hockaday also pointed out that, because 802.11n provides enhanced coverage, its relatively high cost is at least in part offset by the fact that organisations can use fewer APs to cover their users. Although he conceded that "very few applications today drive the need for 802.11n", he suggested that investment in 802.11n now would provide buyers with a good investment for the future.
"The new AP works with our existing switch controllers, because the total bandwidth used is not going to increase simply because you put 802.11n in," said Hockaday. "A year or five years down the road, people will see increased [bandwidth and speed requirements], and the new controllers will offer that higher performance."
Hockaday defended Aruba's decision to release 802.11n equipment now — in the second generation of 802.11n products rather than the even-faster fourth generation, which should roughly coincide with IEEE standardisation. "We waited a fair amount of time to release our products, which gives us greater security that there won't be greater changes to the implementations or standard. We think that the time is right now. It's always been [our] plan to bring it out now; it's just that others rushed to market just to be first."
"The very first vendors who came out with 802.11n were the very smallest ones," Hockaday added. "One of the reasons we're one of the last major vendors to bring out 802.11n is that we don't need to prove to anyone that we're bringing out products just for the sake of it. We wanted to make sure we had a solution that can use existing Power over Ethernet."
Defending the technology against the fact that many current 802.11n products are not fully interoperable, Hockaday claimed that it was possible to argue that there was no guarantee that 802.11g and 802.11b will work together.
"It's in our interests to make sure that we're interoperable," he added, while recommending that organisations transition gradually to 802.11n at the same time as upgrading their LANs to gigabit Ethernet.
Hockaday also claimed that wireless networks were inherently more secure than wired networks, because their relative vulnerability makes IT departments spend more time securing them.
Last week remote access company iPass claimed that hotspot operators had seen no demand for 802.11n, despite the fact that the technology has been built into some laptops for about a year.