Last updated on August 12th, 2021
Outdoor access point models with WiFi 6 (802.11ax) standard from leading Enterprise WiFi vendors is tabulated in this article using the parameter of spatial streams. These access points will help Enterprises to establish reliable WLANs outdoors. Vendors have been shortlisted using recent Gartner magic quadrant listings and IDC quarterly WLAN trackers.
What are outdoor access points?
Access points that can be installed in areas directly or partially exposed to natural environments can be called as outdoor access points. Outdoor access points for enterprise WiFi require special kinds of ruggedized enclosures, assemblies and antennas. This is important to withstand the tougher outdoor weather conditions and wireless propagation requirements. Hence outdoor access point design and physical construction will be different than standard indoor access points.
Access points designed for indoor WLANs should not be installed outdoors or in any locations exposed to outdoor conditions. They would mostly break down quickly, unable to withstand outdoor weather conditions. They would also not propagate wireless signals in the required direction or distance due to design limitations of internal antennas. This may prove to be disastrous in enterprise environments, where down-times will greatly hamper productivity.
>Related Post< Top Indoor Enterprise WiFi 6 Access Points
Important features of outdoor access point models
Access points intended to be installed outside the buildings or in conditions exposed partially or fully to natural elements need to be more rugged and specialized than indoor APs. This is to give them a chance to withstand the harsh weather expected outdoors and to perform their tasks without interruptions.
We will now discuss few major requirements that are critical for long-term fault-free operations of outdoor access points.
Non-operating (storage) temperature
This is the temperature range at which the AP can be stored without causing damage to its internal electronics. This is an important point to consider if the AP needs to be transported or stored in non-air conditioned spaces or in temperatures that are not conducive to sensitive electronic components. Access points from leading vendors can be found to be capable of storage in the temperature ranges of -40°F to +160°F.
Operating temperature of outdoor access point
The temperature at which the AP can be safely operated without causing damage to its parts. This is an important point to consider if the AP will be installed and operated in lower/higher than normal temperatures. Places near industrial furnaces, motors, engines, and other types of heat generating machinery is a case in point. Enterprise users in places that have colder climates should also consider this important parameter.
Operating temperatures are also a critical point to consider for tropical or arid regions, especially where they may be partially or directly exposed to the sun for a whole day. Access points from reliable brands in the market can be found to handle operating temperatures in the range of -40°F to +150°F.
Operating altitude test
This is the altitude at which the AP can be operated for a long-term without causing damage to its internal systems. Operating altitude of an outdoor AP becomes an important parameter because the lesser density of air in higher altitudes may affect the standard air cooling planned for the AP. The internal systems will get heated up more at higher altitudes than they heat up at sea-level.
This factor should be considered if the AP will be operated at higher altitudes. Reliable access points can handle operations at 3000-4000m above sea level.
The access points should be able to operate in humid conditions as humidity is one of the factors that cannot be avoided in most environments. Humidity, which is water in vapour state, can affect the operation of electronic components over a period of time. It may even cause device failures.
Access points must be able to handle humid environmental conditions without damaging the sensitive electronic components inside the enclosures. For example some vendors who manufacture specialized access points conformal coat their components to prevent moisture and dust effects.
Users should check such fortifications along with other related humidity ratings and certifications if they plan to operate APs in hot and humid conditions. Usually outdoor access point models can be found to be rated for upto 95% (non-condensing) humidity.
Waterproof and Dust Proof Ratings
The Ingress Protection (IP) ratings are international standards for certifying a product to be protected against solids and liquids, especially like dust and water. The first numeral of the rating denotes solid ingress protection levels and 2nd digit denotes liquid ingress protection levels.
For example IP55 means partial protection from solids(dust) and protection from low pressure water jets from any direction. IP66 means protection from total dust ingress (dustproof outdoor access points) and protection from high pressure water jets from any direction (waterproof outdoor access points).
This is a critical rating for an outdoor access point as they can be expected to be installed in outdoor areas where they would be partially or fully exposed to dust and rain. The higher the ratings, the better protected the access point. Good quality access points from top vendors can be found to be rated IP66 or IP67. Such waterproof outdoor access points can be expected to perform reliably for many years in changing weather conditions. The full list of IP ratings can be found here.
This is another crucial property, especially if the outdoor access points are planned for windy areas like shipping ports, offshore rigs, mountainous regions etc. These areas are heavily exposed to windy conditions right throughout the year and especially during the storms. Hence the access points installed outdoors in these locations should be able to withstand sustained winds as well as gusts. Top outdoor access point models can be found to be rated to survive winds upto 165 mph /255 kmph.
If the product will be exposed to icy conditions, the user should check with shortlisted vendors about the icing protection of the AP. Some vendors may claim icing protection as per MIL-STD-810 testing methods. This rating was originally developed for USA military purposes but later used for commercial products as well. These tests can be performed by the product manufacturers itself. This should be verified with the vendors and the APs that prove to be better suited to icy conditions should be preferred.
The outdoor access point model should be checked for corrosion resistance. The APs should be made up of corrosion resistant materials if they are going to be considered for sea shore environments like shipping ports or offshore rigs. This is because salt corrodes metals. The AP should have protective enclosures which cannot be easily corroded in salty environments so that they can protect the internal metallic elements of the access point. Any applicable ratings like NEMA, if available, can be checked with the vendors to confirm the corrosion resistance levels of the access point.
The product should have been tested for ability to withstand solar radiation under operating conditions. It should have undergone testing under standards like EN 60068-2-5 and proven to be effective against solar radiation. This is especially important for outdoor access points as they could be exposed to direct sunlight for some or most parts of the day. Sunlight rapidly increases the temperature of electronics, especially when they are continuously operating and may take their temperatures beyond their heat ratings.
If in any case the access point is going to be in a location prone to vibration, or on any moving platforms, it will be crucial to check the access points’ ability to withstand vibration. After all, vibrations are considered as 2nd most cause of failure in electronics. Choosing an enterprise outdoor access point with low ability to withstand vibrations may lead to compromised performance or even total breakdown. The vendor can be requested to provide compliance under testing methods like MIL-STD-810.
External Antennas For Outdoor Access Point
When outdoor WLANs are considered, it is important to comprehensively analyze the outdoor location. The shape and size of the area and WLAN spectrum availability should be surveyed through professional Wifi site surveys and wireless heat mapping. This will help the user to decide the type and number of access points that will be required and whether they will need any external antennas to assist in coverage.
Outdoor access points come with internal antennas as well as with antenna connectors to attach any required type of external antennas.
External antennas are of two basic types: Omni-directional and directional.
Omni-directional Antennas for outdoor access point
An outdoor access point fitted with omni-directional antenna will have WiFi signals that are spreading equally in all directions. This type of antenna can be used in scenarios where users generally will be in all the locations around an access point. Example would be a garden area adjoining a building where people may sit anywhere and access WiFi.
Directional Antennas for outdoor access point
When signals need to be pointed in any particular direction, without signal leakage in surrounding areas, then directional antennas can be chosen.
Directional antenna use cases could be any narrow common areas like verandahs or walkways where WiFi signals are required, without signal leakage into adjoining rooms and halls.
The image above shows a rugged Cisco outdoor access point connected to 5 GHz directional patch antenna (square shaped) and 2.4 GHz omni-directional antenna (stick shaped, connected to a black cable). The antennas below the access point are special purpose WirelessHART antennas that should not be confused with WiFi antennas.
Antennas are also available in various levels of gain for increasing the coverage area. The higher the gain rating, the larger the coverage space.
Unless the situation demands, external antennas should not be used with outdoor access points. This is to avoid additional inventory and maintenance work on top of managing the access points.
Outdoor access point – WiFi 6 Highlights
WiFi 6 access points can support Uplink/Downlink Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiple Access (OFDMA), a technology borrowed from the mobile phone industry. OFDMA vastly improves upon the existing OFDM technology used in WiFi APs. It allows multiple clients to share WiFi channels. This feature can relieve congestion in dense usage areas as 802.11 ax stations need not wait to get access to a full channel and instead share the channel with others and get things done.
OFDMA can make the whole WLAN efficient as client devices with smaller loads that form the bulk of wireless communications can quickly transmit data. Though this feature can only be fully utilized in an environment having only 802.11ax clients, legacy clients can also experience an upside as the air will clear out quickly due to efficient communications happening in 802.11ax ecosystem.
Uplink/Downlink MU-MIMO in outdoor access points helps the AP to communicate with multiple clients simultaneously. This helps the stations to get quick access to the Access Point, thereby increasing the number of clients that can be served by the AP. This feature generally improves airtime efficiency and speed for all the clients.
1024 QAM in WiFi 6 outdoor access points means faster data communications than currently possible. But to achieve such speeds, noise free environments will be needed along with closer ranges between access points and clients. Such requirements make it practically impossible to achieve the stated speeds in crowded environments that need constant wireless spectrum management.
BSS Coloring feature has been carried forward from the 802.11ah “Wi-Fi HaLow” standard and it identifies each access point in a WLAN with a unique identifier called ‘color’. This helps client stations to safely ignore communications in neighboring access points with a different color and below a threshold power level, and continue their transmissions.
This speeds up communications as clients need not stop data transfers to access points due to transmissions happening elsewhere in the WLAN network in the same channel. This greatly helps to overcome limitations posed on wireless communications by existing co-channel interference safe guards.
Target Wake Time
Target Wake Time is another feature inspired from the 802.11ah IoT standard. This feature helps the outdoor access point to wake up clients based on a pre-negotiated time interval to receive data. The clients can sleep during other times, helping them to save battery. This feature can greatly help customers as clients in their WLAN can save more battery and stay online longer between recharges.
Top WiFi 6 Outdoor Access Point Models – Summer 2021
The table below shows the top outdoor access point models available from world’s leading wireless access point manufacturers. The vendors have been shortlisted from the last few Gartner magic quadrant and IDC quarterly WLAN tracker listings.
The access points have been listed based on the concurrent client serving spatial streams available from the AP. Lower the spatial streams, lesser the number of clients the AP can handle. Also when the spatial streams are lesser, smaller will be the power required to operate the AP and it will also be relatively cheaper.
Top WiFi 6 Outdoor Access Point Models
|Access Points||Entry |
|Very High |
|Aruba (HP)||560 Series||AP-518, |
|Extreme Networks||360i/e||460C, 460i/e||560 Series|
Outdoor access points must be carefully chosen to handle the outdoor weather conditions and specific use cases in an Enterprise. As outdoor APs can be expected to face harsher physical environments than their indoor cousins ever will, suitable ruggedized hardware must be chosen from reliable brands for the best return on investment(ROI) and peace of mind.
Note: All Product/Company/Standards/Bodies names are trademarks™ or registered® trademarks of their respective owners. Product related images may have been sourced from vendor websites or other public sources for descriptive purposes. Usage of them in the articles does not imply any affiliation with or endorsement by vendors.The product features mentioned in this article are not exhaustive or final. For a full list of current capabilities, kindly contact the vendor or its local representative in your region.