Despite a year of sales, the market for 802.11n fast Wi-Fi is still evolving, with vendors doing everything in their power to take share away from each other. The latest moves include Ruckus, which is slashing prices to get small-to-medium customers away from other vendors, and Aruba, which has launchNiethed technology to increase 802.11n performance.

These are not minor tweaks. Aruba is promising 200 percent performance increases, even on top of the 802.11n speed boost, and Ruckus is cutting prices by up to three-quarters.

Between them, these offers underline the sea-change with 802.11n. It goes faster than existing 802.11g networks and is more reliable. It opens up a little-used frequency band (5GHz) as well as the overcrowded 2.4GHz band, and vendors have suggested it is finally capable of replacing Ethernet in the access part of the LAN.

How can 802.11n get faster?

Aruba tends to sell to larger businesses and seems to be the strongest competitor to Cisco's dominant position in Wi-Fi, claiming to have around 25 percent of the market for thin 802.11n access points, according to figures from analyst Dell'Oro Group.

Aruba reckons it can boost Wi-Fi throughput by up to three times, with a new version of its Adaptive Radio Management (ARM) software (version 1.0 appeared two years ago). The figure sounds impossible, but Aruba's had its claims investigated by wireless guru Craig Mathias of Farpoint Group, and his White Paper is on the Aruba site. 

"It is quite clear that Aruba's ARM 2.0 has real benefits in educational settings," says Mathias. The test used four access points and 101 assorted notebooks, in a lecture hall at the University of Washington in Seattle. "But we expect that the benefits noted will carry over to any densely deployed environment, which we believe will clearly become the norm as users migrate from wired connections to wireless installations."

ARM 2.0 has a couple of tricks. It manages co-channel interference, limiting the problems caused when nearby access points are on the same channel, but the main thing it does is to handle the likely mix of clients on any wireless LAN. In particular, it stops older, slower devices getting in the way of new ones, and moves clients onto the best channel possible, according to Roger Hockaday, Aruba's director of marketing EMEA.

"11a/b/g slows down 11n," says Hockaday. The slow clients hog time on access points, by making them transfer data at a slower rate. "So how do organisations that have invested in 11n benefit from the greater reliability and greater performance, while maintaining support for their legacy clients?"

Clients tend to default to the crowded 2.4GHz band, because it is more likely to be available, but the 5GHz band is less crowded and has more channels, he says: "Optimising the performance of all clients, old and new, means steering those clients that can connect at 5GHz to the 5GHz band."

ARM 2.0 also guarantees airtime for downstream traffic, so clients don't lose out by slower aggressive nearby clients. The system is dynamic too, so it can respond quickly to changes which might free up space on neighbouring access points.

Or make 802.11n cheap

Ruckus, selling to smaller businesses, takes the opposite approach - making 802.11n very cheap. Ruckus Wireless is cutting its price by up to three-quarters, for companies which replace other vendors' 802.11g wireless LANs with its 802.11n networks. Under the "Mad Dog" programme a user with a switch and ten 802.11g APs from Meru, Trapeze or Colubris, can pay £2055 to swap them for a ten-AP Ruckus network that would normally cost $8566.

To get that price - and similar discounts, on bundles of 25, 50 or 100 APs - the customer has to send the rival network equipment to Ruckus for recycling.