Proxim: 802.11n to bring back 'fat' access points

Wireless LAN veteran Proxim has launched a standalone 802.11n system, predicting the end of centralised controllers for WLANs

Wireless LAN veteran Proxim has launched a fast 802.11n system for businesses, which goes against an industry trend by having no central controller.

The Orinoco AP-8000, introduced on Monday, can give up to 320Mbps throughput, which Proxim said makes it the industry's fastest 802.11n access point, compared with rivals at up to 250Mbps. It has two radios, both of which can operate in either of the unlicensed Wi-Fi bands, and which work at full power using standard power-over-Ethernet (PoE) to the 802.3af standard.

While systems from rivals such as Aruba, Cisco and Meru use a central controller, Proxim's are standalone devices. The company has seen its venerable range of standalone products overtaken by centralised systems with 'thin' access points, which can only operate under central control.

Centralised controllers were introduced in 2002, by companies including Symbol, Aruba, Trapeze and Airespace (now part of Cisco) to simplify the management of wireless access points, and automate the coverage of large buildings. With the intelligence centred in the controller, these systems use thin or 'dumb' access points, instead of the intelligent, or 'fat' standalone access points.

The downside of controllers, said Proxim, is that they can become a bottleneck. The new 802.11n, at 250Mbps, is set to replace 802.11g, which runs at 54Mbps. This multiplies wireless LAN (WLAN) speeds fivefold, and usage is going up as people switch from desktops to laptops. Some enterprise WLAN vendors such as Trapeze and Colubris (now part of HP) have responded by adjusting the thin model, and devolving some intelligence back to the access point, so not all traffic has to go through the controller: Proxim says it is time to go all the way, and bring back standalone 'fat' APs.

"When our competitors upgrade to 802.11n, customers have to apply more expense to the backend infrastructure," said Geoff Smith, Proxim's vice president of marketing. Without a specialised wireless control device, ordinary network management over the wired network is enough to provide enterprise-grade coverage, he said.

The new Orinoco access points have better performance because they cover more radio spectrum, Smith said. "Most products only support a limited number of the channels available in the 5GHz band," he said. "We are the first to provide worldwide support of 5.15 to 5.25GHz."

The new products cost $1,099 (£730) or $799 for the AP-8000 dual-radio or the AP-800 single-radio versions.