Enterprise Wi-Fi vendor Aruba Networks is making a push into the industrial arena, announcing a new family of hardened and explosion-resistant 802.11g-based access points along with a partnership agreement with rugged device maker Panasonic.

According to Michael Tennefoss, head of strategic marketing with Aruba, companies in industrial sectors such as petrochemical, material handling, shop-floor logistics, and supervisory control and data acquisition haven't been able to deploy Wi-Fi networks very deeply into their operations because current access points aren't explosion resistant and have trouble operating in environments mostly consisting of interference-ridden metal.

That's why Aruba decided to design access points from the ground up for the industrial sector. “We wanted to fill a gap we see in industrial applications,” Tennefoss said. “WLAN for the industrial market has been based on using access points made by Taiwanese manufacturers. They are basically generic access points that are one step above a commercial product. But you wouldn't want them on an oil platform because they aren't explosion-resistant.”

Aruba's new AP-85 outdoor access points feature dual high-power radios that deliver up to 200 mW (23 dBm) for wide area coverage. Aruba uses these higher-power radios to obtain better throughput in interference-troubled areas and processes the signals through adaptive radio management to recover any lost signals.

Because the access points are placed in hard-to-reach areas — such as on top of oil platforms — the AP-85's over-the-air management feature allows them to be configured, updated and repurposed without having to physically access the hardware.

When data cabling is too expensive to install, the AP-85 access points can operate in a self-healing mesh mode where the radio signals hop from access point to access point — ideal for open-field, SCADA and oil/gas applications. In addition, the access points are designed with flexible power systems with the ability to be powered using solar energy, a car battery, power over Ethernet or even power from a streetlight, Tennefoss said.

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