The new access point from Wi-Fi veteran Proxim is fast, but there's something else. It's got no central controller - and there are users who support the idea.
As we reported, Proxim is very proud to have an access point that is fast - with dual radios that can operate in both the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands. Within the 5GHz spectrum, it gives broader coverage than some other products, with the company claiming to be the first to operate all the way from 5.15 to 5.85GHz - subject to regulations in different parts of the world.
That's all very well, but this is an enterprise access point - and where is the controller? For nearly four years, since Cisco bought Airespace, we've all known that enterprise access points should be "thin" or "dumb" devices, totally under the control of a central switch or controller. So where is Proxim's?
There isn't one. That's right; this is a standalone access point, much like the ones Proxim has been selling for many years, and like others such as Cisco's Aironet products. Proxim says a controller, which has to handle all wireless traffic, is an unecessary bottleneck, especially now 802.11n fast Wi-Fi could multiply the amount of wireless traffic by five times.
Some vendors agree. Trapeze (now part of Belden) prepared for 802.11n two years ago by devolving traffic to the AP, following similar moves by Colubris Aerohive also makes a controller-less WLAN system, based on distributing control amongst the APs.
Proxim reckons it can go further, ditching the controller entirely and saving users a packet, because normal network management systems are enough to control Wi-Fi access points, saving a packet in the process.
Will users buy this? Some might: "Using standards that have been around for years, a well written network management solution can achieve most of the same functionality that a controller can accomplish for far less cost," said David Watson, network services manager for schools in the Shoreline district north of Seattle, who uses the AP-8000. He uses commercial wireless LAN management software from Airwave, and a few in-house scripts to manage 800 of Proxim's older 802.11abg products - and plans to upgrade them all to 802.11n over the next couple of years.
Watson doesn't like controllers, because "there is a bottleneck from tunnelling all of the wireless traffic through a single controller. For many organisations, this is not an issue because the traffic is destined for a WAN connection or some other typically low-bandwidth system. For us, we have a lot of local traffic. To have a student's wireless traffic tunnel to some remote part of the campus, reverse directions and come back to a printer 18 inches from the source, and use bandwidth both ways, didn't make a whole lot of sense to me."
He reckons he's saved hundreds of thousands of dollars. It takes a certain amount of wireless expertise - but any company needing that much wireless should consider that level of knowledge a pre-requisite, whatever architecture they go with, he says.
But isn't Proxim just making the best of the fact that it tried and failed to make a wireless LAN controller? Quite possibly. But we have to say that wireless LAN architecture isn't as done-and-dusted as it's often made out to be, and this just shows it.