With the BYOD phenomenon now several years old, CIOs and IT managers have become intimately familiar with the necessity and challenge of setting up and maintaining Wi-Fi wireless networks. And as tablets and ultrabooks with no built-in LAN ports increase in popularity, having a smooth-running Wi-Fi network is proving to be more important than ever.
Not surprisingly, the challenge of establishing reliable Wi-Fi networks is most acutely felt by small businesses. Lacking the budget to acquire enterprise-grade equipment, they are often forced to rely on consumer-centric Wi-Fi hardware that is really designed with home users in mind.
On the other hand, even those willing to spend the money find themselves ensnared by the technical complexity of enterprise systems. Indeed, when we reviewed Wi-Fi equipment from Wi-Fi specialist Ruckus Wireless two years ago, we noted that setting it up adequately required good Wi-Fi knowledge, along with a certain level of competency with computer networking.
It appears that Ruckus agrees Wi-Fi is still too difficult for small businesses. With this in mind, the company in November launched a new range of Wi-Fi hardware under a brand called Xclaim, which Ruckus says offers business-class Wi-Fi capabilities, but is designed -- and priced -- specifically for small businesses.
The Xclaim Wi-Fi Access Point Family
Hearing it from Ruckus, there are two core motivations for small businesses to buy into the new Xclaim family of Wi-Fi access points (AP): its “business-class” Wi-Fi capabilities and reliability, and a simplicity that the company says requires “zero IT knowledge” to set up.
The first assertion is backed by the strong Wi-Fi engineering capabilities in Ruckus: The company says that the Xclaim sports an “advanced RF design,” as well as enterprise-centric features such as airtime fairness and band steering (note, however, that many of these features are not directly configurable on the Xclaim).
As for the boast of requiring no IT knowledge: This is not just marketing fluff. The claim is backed up by a unique smartphone app that Ruckus built from the ground up to allow users with marginal IT skills to easily create and configure multiple Wi-Fi access points. (“Look, Ma, I’ve got an app for that.”)
The free app is available on iOS and Android platforms, and unlike other companies’ half-hearted attempts, it is worth noting that you really do need the app to configure the Wi-Fi access points from Xclaim. As you shall see later, this design decision proves to be the primary strength of the Xclaim Wi-Fi solution -- and also a current weakness.
There are four models of Xclaim access points at the moment. There is the entry-level Xi-1 with selectable dual-band 300Mbps 802.11n, the Xi-2 with dual-band 600Mbps 802.11n and the Xi-3 with dual-band 1.167Gbps 802.11ac. The “Xi” family is geared toward indoor usage, while the Xo-1 is the outdoor equivalent of the Xi-3 in a much sturdier chassis that is rated to IP67 guidelines.
The Xi-1, Xi-2 and Xi-3 are priced at $89, $149 and $199 respectively, and the Xi-1 will set you back $299. Overall, the entire Xclaim access point family is fairly expensive when compared to many consumer-level access points on the market today, though it is laughably cheap from the perspective of an enterprise Wi-Fi deployment.
Setting Up the Access Point
The setup process for the Xclaim is radically different from consumer-grade Wi-Fi access points. Users have to first download the free “Harmony” app from the Apple App Store (iOS) or Google Play (Android).
Once the app is downloaded, the smartphone or tablet will have to be connected to the temporary “xclaim-setup” network that is automatically created by every new Xclaim device. Launch the Harmony app, and step through the five pages in the wizard consisting of the following:
- Welcome screen
- Specify (geographical) location: To ensure that the Xclaim conforms to the emission regulations for your locality
- Set up an app password: This password is used to govern access to the Harmony app
- Create network: Define the SSID and associated security passphrase
- Finish: Settings are uploaded; access point reboots
Upon completing the wizard, the access point will shut down the xclaim-setup network and load the newly defined configuration. (To step through the wizard later, first reset the access point to factory mode by holding the “Reset” button for eight seconds when it is powered up.)