Aruba Networks this week unveiled a line of 802.11 a/b/g remote access points that can be upgraded to 802.11n functionality via downloadable software.

Michael Tennefoss, who heads Aruba’s strategic marketing efforts, said the AP-124ABG and AP-125ABG access points are ideal for public-safety agencies that might understand the benefits of 802.11n technology but don’t have the budgets for a forklift migration. “They still want to make a future-proof buying decision, and that’s what these products do,” he said.

All a user needs to do is purchase a software key from Aruba, which is loaded onto the vendor’s controller and then downloaded to the access points. “It’s very simple,” Tennefoss said.

Once the software is unlocked, the access point provides full 802.11 functionality and operates using legacy 802.3af power over Ethernet (POE). The latter capability is a key advantage, according to Tennefoss, who said one competitor was forced to upgrade to the much higher current POE+ because of the amount of power their access points draw. “That means you have to replace your entire POE infrastructure,” when migrating to 802.11n, he said.

Tennefoss added that another competitor requires users to deploy two 802.3af power sources. “That means you’re going to end up spending an additional $150 to $300 per access point just to upgrade the POE,” he said.

Indeed, the power issue initially caused Aruba to delay the launch of its 802.11n access points. “Even though it was ready back in June, we didn’t announce it until November because the first-generation 802.11n chipsets consumed too much power,” Tennefoss said. “So we were waiting for the second-generation chipsets to be released, but they kept getting delayed.”

In addition to leveraging the second-generation chipset, Aruba also engineered into its 802.11n access points an intelligent power management function that minimizes current consumption.

“Let’s say for example, an integrator made a mistake, and instead of installing 100 meters of Cat 5 cable—which is the maximum—he installed 300 meters,” Tennefoss said. “So now you have a resistance drop along the cable and you’re getting much less current than you thought.

“Instead of just shutting down altogether, what the access point will do is go from 3x3 MIMO operation to 2x3 MIMO operation. So we’ll cut out one of the streams as a way of conserving power while maintaining functionality in the unit.”

Aruba also announced its Mobile Remote Access Point software, which is a VPN-replacement product designed to deliver the “enterprise experience to mobile workers,” Tennefoss said. “You have the same network resources and the same level of security when you’re on the road as you have at your desk in your office.”

According to Tennefoss, the software can be installed in any standard Aruba remote access point. Once installed, the software establishes a remote IP sec tunnel between the remote access point and the enterprise’s data center. It then activates a full policy-based firewall within the access point that enforces the same security policies that are in place at the corporate office. “So whatever you can do locally you now can do remotely,” he said.

While primarily an enterprise solution, Tennefoss said the software was designed with public safety in mind, as it provides 3G cellular modem support. Users can plug a USB cellular modem into the corresponding port on the access point to create a wide area network connection.

“So, instead of pulling down a satellite link, [first responders] can now use cellular as the backhaul to the … disaster-recovery center,” Tennefoss said. “We already support satellite so if they prefer to use satellite they can do that. But this is a much more flexible solution because you might not always have the line of sight … especially in an urban area.”