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Cisco Flexible Radio Assignment Crushes the Competition

- May 3, 2017 - 3 Comments

When was the last time you filled an ice cube tray? It’s probably been awhile hasn’t it? When you want a cold beverage, you open up your freezer or click a button and boom, instant ice cubes.

Why should your wireless network be any different? With Cisco Flexible Radio Assignment (FRA), found in the Cisco Aironet 2800 and 3800 Series Access Points, your wireless network automatically adds capacity by changing the access point from 2.4/5GHz radios to dual 5GHz radios. It also monitors the network for security threats and RF interference that may affect performance.

But unlike the refrigerator analogy, Cisco is the only company that offers FRA. This means that Cisco has the only products where the access point automatically selects whether the radio should be 2.4GHz or 5GHz. Other companies offer dual 5GHz APs, but the customer has to manually assigned the radio band. FRA makes the dual 5GHz easy to deploy.

When you have a great feature like FRA, it worries the competition. HPE Aruba has been quoted as saying customers, “aren’t ready for 5Ghz networks” and suggesting that Cisco is claiming that 2.4Ghz radios aren’t needed any more. This isn’t true at all.

My colleague Wes Purvis explains, “The whole point of FRA is to remove excessive 2.4GHz coverage, which causes co-channel inference and is a detriment to the network. Many customers already realize they have excessive 2.4GHz coverage causing harm on their networks, so they go through and manually disable a percentage of the 2.4GHz radios.”

In other words, a dual 5GHz network provides a customer with more spectrum than the 2.4GHz.

Secondly, our competition claims that having an access point that has two 5GHz radios won’t work because it’s never been done right before. Technically, they do have a sliver of a point there. Before the Aruba acquisition, HP had a dual 5GHz capable access point with external antennas. The implementation never really took off. The idea of two 5GHz radios in one access point has been tried here and there, but hasn’t worked particularly well until the Cisco Aironet 2800 and 3800 Access Points were released last year.

But why does the two 5GHz radios in the Aironet 2800 and 3800 work? A number of reasons. One, Cisco separated the antennas.  Two, Cisco ensured that there is 100MHz of channel separation between the two radios. Three, in the internal antenna access points, Cisco engineers came up with a micro/macro cell concept where one radio operates at lower transmit power than its twin.

In this illustration, the micro cell provides High Density Service for a small coverage area while the macro cell simultaneously covers larger areas such as hallways and lobbies.

With the external antenna access point, a macro/macro concept was used where both radios operate at a higher transmit power.

In this illustration, with macro/macro deployment, Cisco provides more coverage with fewer access points. How does it compare against the competition? In the illustration below, more access points are needed for coverage in the HPE is deployment.

This is further highlighted in a test performed by Purvis (that you can view here) he set up two networks; one run by a Cisco Aironet 2800 access point and one run by two HPE Aruba access points. The reason for the dual Aruba devices was to create an apples-to-apples comparison of two 5GHz networks comparing the 2800 to a traditional access point. Since HPE doesn’t have an access point with two 5GHz radios, Purvis had to set it up this way.

The result was that the mobile device (an iPhone 7) connected to the Cisco access point received much more bandwidth than the device (also an iPhone 7) connected to the HPE access point. The Cisco bandwidth was also much more consistent as the two Aruba APs were interfering and stealing bandwidth away from one another. The device connected to the Cisco APs saw 550Mbps while the Aruba-connected devices saw only 355Mbps—not to mention you won’t have to turn off a radio on your new AP.

And that’s what the crux of the test shows: with the Cisco Aironet 2800 Series Access Point, you can plug it into your network and get a feature like Flexible Radio Assignment up and running. It’s really that simple. With the competition, you’re increasing your price and you’re spending hours designing your network to make sure that the access points are playing well with one another.

Still not convinced? Check out the independently run results from the Miercom report that shows these Cisco products crushing the competition.

So while the Cisco Aironet 2800 and 3800 Series Access Points may not be able to chill that glass of lemonade after a long day at work, it’s also a very cool product.

Learn more about the Cisco Aironet 2800 here and the Cisco Aironet 3800 here.

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3 Comments

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  2. Great write-up, thank you, Byron!

      Happy to write it Jiri and I'm glad you enjoyed it. Byron

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