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Wi-Fi AP vendors getting creative to stand out in the market

Vendors Extreme Networks and Mist are promoting Wi-Fi APs that include services delivered today by other devices on the wireless network. The new products are unique in the market, but experts expect that to change.

To stand out in the market, wireless LAN vendors are combining their latest Wi-Fi access points with other devices, pitching the unified systems as less expensive than separate hardware.

Recent examples of the trend include Extreme Networks Inc.'s introduction of an integrated video camera and access point (AP) and Mist's launch of an AP with a virtual beacon for providing location-based services. Both APs deliver the latest Wi-Fi standard, 802.11ac Wave 2, which has a theoretical speed of 7 Gbps on the 5 GHz band.

Most WLAN vendors have Wi-Fi APs with specialty antennas that communicate with internet-enabled lighting, environmental controls and security devices. As a result, such features have become commodities, forcing vendors to get more creative to stand out.

Setting itself apart from the competition was behind Extreme's combined camera and Wi-Fi AP, called the 3916. The company said it believes the product will attract new business, while keeping existing customers interested, said Mike Leibovitz, product strategy director at Extreme, based in San Jose, Calif.

"We thought that the camera AP was almost an obvious convergence point -- something new and hopefully attractive," he said.

The camera-sporting AP is unique in the market today, said Nolan Greene, an analyst at IDC. "To my knowledge, Extreme is the only one to achieve that level of integration."

University 'intrigued' with camera AP

Anupam Singh, director of network operations at Suffolk University in Boston, said he was "definitely intrigued by the idea" of a camera-AP combo. The university could reduce costs by using one device for Wi-Fi and for recording lectures in classrooms, Singh said.

The 3916's 2-megapixel camera might not provide the picture clarity the university needs, Singh said. Nevertheless, such products are worth following.

"I will keep an eye on this product category and evaluate it when it matures a bit more," he said. "It has the potential for some cost savings."

Suffolk is a WLAN customer of Extreme and Hewlett Packard Enterprise. The school uses Extreme for wired access and HPE Aruba APs.

Besides schools, Extreme said it believes hospitals, medical clinics, government offices and enterprise campuses would also find the 3916 useful, Leibovitz said. How the product evolves will depend on how customers use it.

Today, the stationary camera provides a wide-view angle of an . It can feed video to any digital recorder compliant with standards set by the Open Network Video Interface Forum. For security, companies can use Extreme's on-premises or cloud-based management tools to set policies that separate the video stream from other traffic on the wireless network.

Extreme plans to release the 3916 in the quarter of next year and has not disclosed pricing.

Mist vBLE AP a rare offering -- for now

While Extreme is testing the market for camera APs, Mist has its eye on retailers, sports venues and conference centers that want to deploy wayfinding, promotional and informational services. The vendor's Wave 2 AP with a virtualized Bluetooth Low Energy (vBLE) beacon is meant to eliminate the need for a separate, battery-powered device to anchor indoor services. The vBLE AP, in June, is capable of locational accuracy within 1 to 3 meters.

"Mist is certainly rare in its vBLE offering, but I would expect to see more like this in the future," Greene said.

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