New Meru APs Promise Feature-Loaded, Lower-Price Wi-Fi

Meru Networks is broadening its horizons with a new access point line it says offers plenty of sophistication, but pricing more comfortable for entry level wireless AP needs. Now that 802.11n wireless is overtaking the enterprise, Meru argues, the supporting technologies need to appeal to a broader range of enterprise customers.

The AP1000i costs $395 or $695 depending on model, but offers many of the same features as Meru's 3x3 AP3000 line. It makes full use of Meru's Virtual Cell and Virtual Port technologies, offers an internal 2x2 MIMO antenna set-up, is available as a single- or dual-radio configurations (on 2.4 Ghz or 5 Ghz), offers remote office capability through encrypted backhaul and boasts compatibility with Meru's EZ RF management tools. Spectrum analysis, troubleshooting tools, intrusion prevention, rogue mitigation and management software are also found within, including Meru's optional Service Assurance Manager for predicting WLAN availability.

"This is a high-value enterprise access point at a low cost," said Graham Melville, Meru's director of product management, to CRN. "It's not impacting our AP3000 sales because that outperforms this, but the AP1000i outperforms the competition in this space, and that's how we're going to market. We see it as not just a 'first,' but an 'only,' at this point."

The AP has less processing power than higher-end Meru access points and no external antenna, but it runs fairly close to Meru's 3000s. It's designed to go head-to-head with Cisco's Aironet 1140, Aruba's AP-105 and APs from Motorola and other rivals. The APs will be available in December.

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What works in Meru's favor, Melville contends, is how its platform aggregates access points and the controllers needed to support them into more scalable resources. The Virtual Cell technology, for example, pools a network of APs together so they can be deployed as needed, much the same way IT managers deploy storage and server resources more effectively using virtualization.

"In competitive systems, you still see a lot of problems with coverage optimization. That always hits resellers badly because oftentimes, a lot of it is driven by people moving around and the wireless specification is off," Melville said. "That scares VARs from putting any SLA on their wireless sales, and it usually means a lot more help desk calls."

NEXT: Market Share Shifts In WLAN?

Meru has a modest, but insistent community of channel partners, and the company is looking to ensure it takes advantage of WLAN share shifts next year, according to Cindy Cole, who became Meru's vice president, worldwide channels, in May.

It's Meru's top rivals who still control much of the market; ABI Research this week reconfirmed Cisco and Aruba as the top two vendors in enterprise wireless, with 54 percent and 13 percent share, respectively.

ABI also cited that the intensifying wireless competition -- from not only the established WLAN vendors but also insistent upstarts like Ruckus Wireless -- is driving down prices for Wi-Fi APs. Specifically, said ABI researchers this week, shipments of 802.11n APs grew 15 percent from the first quarter of 2010 to the second quarter.

"If you look at the traditional wireless vendors in the channel, we've all had our strengths in education and health care, and now we have to get outside of those niche verticals and position in retail, hospitality and the carpeted enterprise," Cole said. "I hear very clearly from our existing partners to make sure we're expanding our market. We're clearly not overdistributed, and we're taking existing partners and making sure they're enabled."

Cole cited research from Everything Channel's Institute for Partner Education and Development (IPED), that VARs are reviewing their line cards more frequently than ever and 75 percent are looking to add new vendors in the next few months. Look for Meru to make additional changes early in the new year to its evolving channel strategy, Cole said.

"This is a great time for us," she said.