Wi-Fi vendor Aerohive Networks, whose enterprise WLAN uses "co-operative control" and has no central switch, has launched a set of HiveAPs that use the fast 802.11n Wi-Fi standard.

The new access points include the dual-radio HiveAP 320 for indoor use, a metal HiveAP 340 for industrial use, and a waterproof three-radio HiveAP 380 for outdoor use. Each has two Gigabit Ethernet, that also provides power-over-Ethernet (PoE) for the device - with intelligence to turn off features if the device is approaching the limits of the PoE standard.

As 802.11n arrives, most vendors are moving towards a more distributed architecture, to avoid the central controller becoming a bottleneck for wireless traffic being carried over the wired LAN. This takes it more towards Aerohive’s controller-less architecture, where traffic is forwarded from the AP, said Adam Conway, vice president of product management at Aerohive.

"What we will demonstrate is beyond what anyone else has announced," said Conway. "All our APs have two radios, on 2.4GHz and 55GHz, and they support 3x3 MIMO, with two Gigabit uplinks, supporting smart PoE."

Without a controller, Aerohive's solutions costs about half as much as systems based on controllers from vendors including Cisco, Aruba, Trapeze and Meru, was Conway's surprising claim. He based this on a promise that his company's 802.11n APs would cost more or less the same as controller-based vendors' thin 802.11n APs, but won't require an expensive controller.

This also makes them an easy upgrade for companies that have an existing "fat" AP solution, based on independent access points, he claimed. "If you want to move from uncoordinated autonomous APs, and want roaming and automatic RF control, we are a much simpler upgrade."

They are also replacing some controller-based networks he said: "The classic controller-based architecture leads to overload. Intelligent APs can fail over more smoothly when one fails. There is no loss of connectivity and voice calls can continue. With a controller, if you lose the controller, you lose the network."

Although two radios technically exceeds the capability of the power over Ethernet standard 802.3af, there will be enough slack in most cases to run two radios fully powered, said Conway. "Almost all PoE switches provide more than 12.95W - we need about 17W." If the Ethernet run to the AP is short, for instance, more power will be available.

When there is not enough power for full operation, the Aerohive AP will gracefully back down he said, first shutting down unused AP components, for instance one of the Gigabit ports, and then going from 3x3 MIMO to 2x3. "The impact is very minor - and Cisco doesn't even offer 3x3," said Conway. The two Gigabit ports can be used to provide redundancy, for power and data. If only Fast Ethernet ports are available on the switch, the system may be able to run at full speed in most cases, with two Ethernet connections.

These APs will be available in May - and Aerohive has hinted at having full European distribution around that time.