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Aruba intros 'blast-resistant' Wi-Fi gear

Posted: 07 Feb 2008 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:wireless networking? Wi-Fi? 802.11n? wireless chipsets?

For several years now, vendors of wireless networking infrastructure have been attempting to cross the divide between the so-called "carpeted spaces" (i.e., office buildings) and the "concrete-floor spaces" (i.e., warehouses, manufacturing plants, and other industrial environments) with mixed success.

Now, Aruba Networks has come out with a new line of "explosion-resistant" access points that it says are the first units especially designed for the often harsh environments of industrial users.

The AP's come with dual radios featuring an antenna-blistering 200MW of power for wide area coverage. The AP-85 line of APs carries a "Zone 2" rating under ATEX, the explosive-atmosphere system published by the European Union. That makes it suitable for volatile environments including deep-sea oil rigs, nuclear power plants, pulp and paper mills, large-scale factories, and so on, according to Michael Tennefoss, director of strategic marketing at the Wi-Fi vendor.

"These are places with harsh, demanding performance requirements, and high security needs," says Tennefoss.

Previous systems from other vendors, including Cisco, which dominates the market for indoor enterprise wireless networks, have consisted of repackaging commercial-grade equipment, Tennefoss adds. Several of the smaller wireless vendors sell gear from Taiwanese original-equipment manufacturer Accton Technology.

Built from scratch for demanding environments, the new Aruba units offer weatherproof enclosures, LED displays readable from a distance, a temperature range of more than 100 (from -22C to 131C), and a much wider coverage area than conventional APs, the company says. Tennefoss claims that signals from the AP-85 will cover 10km over water using conventional Wi-Fi technology.

The new access points will not run the high-speed 802.11n networking standard because no 802.11n wireless chipsets have been certified for such dramatic temperature variations.

While the concrete-floor market is not as large as the office-space market, industrial companies of many types are deploying Wi-Fi and other networking technology to improve productivity and worker safety, save floor space, and avoid the costs of running cable in large factories and warehouses and the like. Research firm ARC Advisory Group says that manufacturers alone will spend over $1 billion on wireless devices, software and services in 2010. The total non-carpeted market, says Tennefoss, will reach more than $2 billion.

"We're definitely at the beginning of the beginning," he adds. "It's not a saturated market, and industrial companies are looking for the right solutions."

Aruba also said it has inked a partnership deal with Panasonic for its Toughbook line of ruggedized laptop computers. The agreement will cover joint marketing arrangements and support for the Toughbooks on Aruba networks.

- Richard Martin

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