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February 20, 2020
Cisco Meraki is fleshing out its wireless LAN portfolio with three new access points (AP) based on the new higher speed Wi-Fi 6 standard. The expanded Wi-Fi 6 product line, launched this week, includes Meraki’s first general purpose AP based on the new standard, also known as 802.11ax.
The new lower cost MR36, which carries a list price of $849, is considerably less expensive than Meraki’s existing higher-end MR45 and MR55s, introduced last April with price tags of $1,449 and 1,849, respectively. This week’s rollout includes upgrades of those access points. Priced the same as their predecessors, the MR46 and MR56 are aimed for much higher density requirements and offer greater performance than the MR36.
Nevertheless, access points that support Wi-Fi 6 come at a premium price over the more ubiquitous Wi-Fi 5, or 802.11ac. While Wi-Fi 6 is backward-compatible with WLAN infrastructure based on Wi-Fi 5 and earlier standards, only the most recently released iPhones and select Android phone models support Wi-Fi 6. Enterprise laptops and higher-end commercial and consumer devices have started to support it as well.
Despite the higher cost of Wi-Fi 6 access points and low percentage of users with devices that support it overall, partners increasingly are recommending Wi-Fi 6 to customer seeking to upgrading their enterprise infrastructure, or for greenfield deployments.
Worldwide Technology’s Neil Anderson
“Wi-Fi 6 offers the most future-proofing,” said Neil Anderson, senior director of network solutions at World Wide Technology. “Whereas Wi-Fi 5 has been out for five years and is definitely the safest and most understood to deploy, it’s getting long in the tooth. Where the rubber meets the road, deploying Wi-Fi APs is expensive. Someone needs to design and install them — and it’s pretty manually intensive. It’s not like putting a new server in a data-center rack. So customers want to do that as few times as possible — maybe once every five years.”
Over the next year or two, as people upgrade their devices, the percentage of devices that support Wi-Fi 6 is expected to rise. Wi-Fi 6 supports speeds a maximum of 9.6 Gbps, compared with Wi-Fi 5’s 3.5 Gbps. Its support for eight spatial streams is double that of Wi-Fi 5 and the subcarrier modulation range offers a 4x increase, according to the Wi-Fi Alliance.
Wi-Fi 6 also uses orthogonal frequency division multiple access (OFDMA) to more efficiently share channels, which reduces upload and download latency, particularly in locations with a significant number of simultaneous users.
“The next 10 years will see new device types, and diverse high-density wireless environments, which is why we want to offer an expanded range of Wi-Fi 6 options,” according to a blog by Cisco product marketing manager David van Schravendijk, announcing the new access points.
WWT frequently holds workshops for customers that cover Wi-Fi 6 and 5G wireless networks.
“I would say the largest factor holding up Wi-Fi 6 deployments isn’t necessarily the newness of the technology,” Anderson said. “It’s the expense to install, and in Cisco’s case – it requires new controller architecture/products as well – so now you are not only churning your APs, but you have to replace your aggregation point too. That’s a fairly complex cutover. This is true for both Cisco and Aruba. For Meraki, their controller is their cloud — customers don’t have to worry about it, so I would expect Meraki deployments will go faster for Wi-Fi 6 initially.”
Jeffrey Schwartz has covered the IT industry for nearly three decades, most recently as editor-in-chief of Redmond magazine and executive editor of Redmond Channel Partner. Prior to that, he held various editing and writing roles at CommunicationsWeek, InternetWeek and VARBusiness (now CRN) magazines, among other publications.
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