"Explosion resistant" isn't a label most of us expect to see on a wireless LAN access point, but Aruba Networks' new rugged access points are aimed at industrial and outdoor applications where conditions are harsh, hazardous and even explosive.

The new Aruba AP-85 features two high-powered 802.11a/b/g radios, protected within a weatherproof enclosure that is designed not only to withstand explosions but also to resist triggering explosions by preventing exposed electrical wires from coming in contact with vapours or dust.

The AP-85 enclosure carries the ATEX Zone 2 safety rating, which means it can operate in explosive fumes or dust. The device can run in temperatures ranging from minus 30 degrees to more than 55 degrees Centigrade, without the need for specialty housings.

The radios are powered by up to 200 milliwatts - more than double that of most office access points - creating a strong, long-distance signal. It can draw power from standard 802.3af Power-over-Ethernet systems or 12-volt DC sources, such as plant bus power, vehicular power cells or a solar panel. To support fibre-optic network interfaces, the AP-85 can run on auto-ranging 90-288VAC.

Three models offer three different upstream network interfaces: 10/100Base-T Ethernet, and either single-mode or multi-mode fibre for use in hazardous, potentially explosive environments. Specially designed mounting brackets can withstand winds up to 125 mph.

Aruba designed a number of features to meet industrial requirements, says Michael Tennefoss, Aruba's head of strategic marketing. It's the first Aruba access point to let administrators configure and troubleshoot it by connecting wirelessly from a notebook or handheld computer. Others require a technician to physically plug into the access point, according to Tennefoss.

Troubleshooting is also simplified by a high-intensity LED display mounted clearly on the front of the access point. Lower-intensity displays are hard to read from any distance, and at least one rival product has the display mounted on the back, Tennefoss says. The Aruba LED display can be set to turn on for a predetermined amount of time and then automatically shut off, to conserve power.

One optional feature is the ability to run Aruba's mesh networking software, so that packets can travel by hopping from one access point to another, eliminating the need to cable each access point to a switch or controller.

Weatherproof, durable access points for outdoor mesh networks are also available from rivals such as Cisco, BelAir, Strix and Tropos. Motorola, via its Symbol acquisition, also targets industrial enterprises with WLAN infrastructure and handhelds.

Aruba's AP-85 will ship by the end of March. It's priced at $2,500 for the Ethernet model and $4,000 for the fibre-optic models.

Aruba also announced it has certified the Toughbook line of rugged notebook PCs, from Panasonic Computer Solutions, as interoperable with Aruba's WLAN infrastructure.