The new Meraki MR16 802.11n access point delivers improved performance at a much lower price point than its previous models, while seamlessly supporting all the WiFi features offered via Meraki's Cloud Controller.
The MR16 is one of two new access points based on Atheros' fourth-generation 802.11n chipset that Meraki released this month, the other being the MR12.
Intended to replace Meraki's previous flagship indoor models (the MR14 and MR11), the new APs are much more affordable while continuing to deliver all the enterprise-oriented features Meraki has delivered over the last year through its Cloud Controller.
I tested the MR16-Meraki's new dual-radio, dual-band 802.11n AP-which supplants the MR14. Like the MR14, the MR16 features a 2-receive-by-2-transmit-chain MIMO (multiple input, multiple output) implementation. The single-radio MR12 (which I did not test) replaces the MR11 in Meraki's inventory.
The lower price is the most apparent advantage of the new models, as Meraki lists the MR16 for $649 (compared with $799 for the MR14), while the MR12 lists for $399 (compared with $599 for the MR11). As with the old models, however, each MR16 also requires a license (which includes product support, maintenance and upgrades) for use with the Cloud Controller, which needs to be factored into the cost analysis. For each type of AP, Cloud Controller licenses cost $150 for one year or $300 for three years.
The MR16 features a slimmer chassis design, measuring in at 7.3 by 5.8 by 1.0 inches and 17 ounces, whereas the old MR14 is 18.5 by 6.6 by 1.7 inches and 27 ounces. To make everything fit in the slimmer chassis, Meraki moved to a single circuit board design inside. This reduced the component count from the old model, which had a main board, a daughter card and a cabled connection to an antenna element.
The MR16 is rated for a slight reduction in maximum power draw, specifying a maximum power draw of 10.5 watts, compared with 11.6 watts for the MR14. Like its predecessor, the MR16 supports 802.3af-compliant Power over Ethernet, but the MR16 also adds a DC power port for use with an optional power adapter (sold separately for $29).
The integrated omnidirectional antenna in the MR16 promises more gain than its predecessor, as the specification sheet enumerates a 3 dBi gain in the 2.4GHz band and 5 dBi in the 5GHz band (compared with 2 dBi at 2.4GHz and 4 dBi at 5GHz in the MR14).
To glean some of the performance gains promised by the MR16, I used AirMagnet Survey PRO 8.0 to take before-and-after measurements of a single-AP network deployed in the harsh and busy RF airspace of eWEEK's San Francisco offices. I first measured the performance of an MR14 and then measured performance of a new MR16 deployed in the same spot with the same configuration-measuring downlink PHY data rate and the download iPerf performance delivered via both models.
In areas furthest from the AP (100 feet away or so), the data rate oscillated between 24M and 48M bps in both the 2.4GHz and 5GHz band for the MR14, which returned around 10M-bps iPerf download performance for each band. Conversely, for the MR16 in the 5GHz band, AirMagnet Survey PRO returned data rates measured at 120M bps at the same distance, translating to iPerf download performance between 16M and 20M bps (at right, in photo). However, the MR16 fared worse at the longest distances in the 2.4GHz band.
Both bands saw increased download throughput performance within 20 to 50 feet of the MR16, however, which likely will be the more applicable data point for indoor enterprise deployments. The increase in PHY was much more significant in the 5GHz band.
In my tests, the MR16 worked with my account on Meraki's Cloud Controller, automatically deploying my network settings to the new AP once I licensed it. The new AP also seamlessly worked with other recent Meraki Cloud Controller features like the Lobby Ambassador or the application Traffic Shaping feature that impressed me during a previous review.
According to Meraki officials, there are no new applications delivered via the Cloud Controller that work only with the MR16 or MR12 at this time, so administrators should be able to mix old and new APs in the same network without worrying about feature parity.
The MR16 is already WiFi-certified, and the full certification details can be seen here.