Historically, Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise’s Wi-Fi strategy has been to be an Aruba OEM. Given Aruba’s high market share and strong technology, this makes sense because it gives Alcatel-Lucent a credible set of products to build a business around.
However, as is the case with all things in life, one size doesn’t fit all, and Aruba’s products, as good as they are, aren’t for everyone. Aruba makes great technology, loaded with features, but they are a premium-price vendor and some customers have budget constraints.
The Alcatel-Lucent Stellar line of access points
To address this part of the market, last year Alcatel-Lucent introduced its own line of access points (AP) under the brand name “Stellar.” These products are designed to be lower cost and easier to deploy.
The Stellar product line has two management modes: Express, which is designed for deployments of up to 64 APs, and Enterprise, which can scale up to 4,000 APs. Details of each are below:
- Express mode is a completely controller-less solution in which the controller functionality is distributed across all the APs. The cluster is managed via a cloud-based web portal and includes a wizard for initial configuration, making it ideal for small businesses. Express also comes with an integrated guest portal, making it easy for businesses that have little to no technical expertise to set up a guest network.
- Enterprise is meant for larger deployments and requires a controller. Customers can choose between a local controller or one that is cloud based. In either case, administrators manage the solution through a centralized management tool. The solution also offers unified management, so network professionals can manage their wired and wireless networks from a single console. As one would expect, Enterprise also has features such as high availability, wireless security, roles-based policies and analytic capabilities.
The initial set of features for Express and Enterprise were fairly basic, but the company recently added several features in the areas of management and performance. These include:
- Remote cluster management (Express only)
- External captive portal support
- User behavior tracking
- Link aggregation (Enterprise only)
- DHCP / DNS / NAT (Express only)
- Peer-to-peer wireless bridge mode
- Linear mesh daisy chaining
- Sticky client avoidance
- Greater control over channels and transmission rates
There are a lot of great new features, but the one I find particularly interesting is the meshing capabilities. With most Wi-Fi solutions, the APs need to connect to the network via an Ethernet switch, which requires a cable drop everywhere the business wants an AP. If there isn’t one, cable pullers need to be brought in and new wiring needs to be run at an average cost of about $300/line.
Meshing lets the APs connect with one another, and the network is extended where cabling doesn’t reach. Several solutions do this, but they use the 5 GHz channel so all devices need to connect at 2.4 GHz, which many businesses are trying to do away with. The Alcatel-Lucent meshing uses the 5 GHz low band to connect, leaving the 5 GHz high and 2.4 for client connectivity.
New Alcatel-Lucent 802.11ac Wave 2 APs
Alcatel-Lucent also introduced two new 802.11ac Wave 2 APs — the OmniAccess Stellar AP1201H and OmniAccess Stellar AP1201. They are both 2-radio solutions, but the “H” model is specifically designed for the hospitality vertical. The RF coverage is purposely limited, so a hotel can deploy one in each room.
Other hotel-specific features: Users have the ability to turn off the LEDs, the AP has PoE or DC power, it can be wall mounted or put under a desk, it doesn’t have a logo, and it has a clean, sleek look, which makes it unobtrusive compared to a typical AP.
The 1201 is an entry-level AP meant for a typical Wi-Fi deployment.
This brings the total number of Stellar AP options to six and includes everything from a basic Wave 1 AP to 4×4:4 Wave 2 APs and an outdoor model. The Stellar line has a number of features that enable location-based services including wayfinding, geofencing and analytics. As Wi-Fi continues to grow in importance, indoor location services will become critical.
It’s likely that many Network World readers, particularly those based in North America, were not aware of the networking business from Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise, but the company offers a solid, price-competitive solution with its Stellar line. It’s relatively new, but Alcatel-Lucent has beefed it up quickly to ensure customers have the features they need today, but also tomorrow as they transition to digital businesses.
One final point, customers currently using the Aruba OEM products need not be concerned because Alcatel-Lucent has extended its agreement with Aruba for another decade.