Aruba Instant On Networking Platform Review

Unlike many other Aruba products, the Instant-On product line targets home and small business networks. If you’ve never heard of Aruba before, you may want to take a look at our Instant On overview, in order to gain a better understanding of these products. The AP22 is the first Wi-Fi 6 access point in this product range. This access point is available in the UK, Ireland and Europe at an average price of £130 /€156. This article is a review of the AP22, as well as a comparison with the older models AP11 and AP11D.

This test focuses on the comparison between a range of UniFi products: WiFi 6 U6 Lite and U6 Long Range, respectively WiFi 5 AC-Pro and AC-HD. For testing, We used multiple devices, public speed test servers and iPerf tests at different locations. To start with, let’s see how the technical specs of the AP22 compare to the ones of AP11 and of other older devices.

ModelAP11AP11DAP12AP15AP17AP22
GenerationWIFI5 AC VAVE1WIFI5 AC VAVE2WIFI5 AC VAVE2WIFI5 AC VAVE3WIFI5 AC VAVE4WIFI5 AC VAVE5
TypeINDOORDESK / WALLINDOORINDOOROUTDOORINDOOR
Max Active devices5050751005075
5GHzStandardWIFI 5WIFI 6WIFI 7WIFI 8WIFI 9WIFI 6
MIMO2X22X33X34X42X22X2
MU-MIMO**DOWNDOWNDOWNUP/DOWN
Throughput Mbps867 Mbps867 Mbps1300 Mbps1733 Mbps867 Mbps1200 Mbps
Antenna5.8 dBi6.2 dBi5.4 dBi6.0 dBi4.2 dBi5.6 dBi
2GHzStandardWIFI 4WIFI 5WIFI 6WIFI 7WIFI 8WIFI 9
MIMO2X22X32X42X52X62X7
Throughput300 Mbps301 Mbps302 Mbps303 Mbps304 Mbps574 Mbps
Antenna3.3 dBi4.3 dBi3.9 dBi3.6 dBi3.6 dBi4.3 dBi
Bluetooth LEYESYESYESYESYESYES
PortsUplink1 Gbps1 Gbps1 Gbps1 Gbps1 Gbps1 Gbps
Downlink*1 Gbps****
USB**HOST INTERFACEHOST INTERFACE**
PowerPOE inPoE (802af)PoE/PoE (802af/at)PoE (802af)PoE (802af)PoE (802af)PoE (802af)
POE out*PoE (802af)****
DC in12 V48 V12 V13 V*15 V
Max powerPOE10.1 W9.7W / 25.3W13.0 W14.4 W13.5 W10.1 W
DC8.8 WNO RESTRICTION12.04 W12.7 WNO RESTRICTION8.8 W
DimensionsImperial5.9 x 5.9 x 1.3 in3.4 x 1.6 x 5.9 in6.6 x 6.6 x 1.3 in6.6 x 6.6 x 1.3 in6.2 x 7.4 x 2.6 in6.3 x 6.3 x 1.5
Metric152 x 152x 34 mm86 x 40 x 150 mm167 x 167 x 34 mm167 x 167 x 34 mm157 x 187 x 67 mm160 x 160 x 37 mm
WeightImperial0.43 lbs0.69 lbs1.06 lbs1.06 lbs1.43 lbs1.1 lbs
Metric193g313g483g483g650g500g

Instant On AP11 And AP11D vs. AP22

Even though the AP22 is very similar to the AP11, there are a few noticeable differences. Both devices are dual-band, wireless and omnidirectional access points. The biggest difference is that the AP11 supports only WiFi 5, while the AP22 supports Wi-Fi 6. Both of them feature powerful and effective antennas that provide excellent coverage. Nonetheless, the AP22 scores a better performance.

Instant On AP11 And AP11D vs. AP22

Even though the AP22 is very similar to the AP11, there are a few noticeable differences. Both devices are dual-band, wireless and omnidirectional access points. The biggest difference is that the AP11 supports only WiFi 5, while the AP22 supports Wi-Fi 6. Both of them feature powerful and effective antennas that provide excellent coverage. Nonetheless, the AP22 scores a better performance.

AP11D is a variation that shares the same specs as the AP11, the difference being the three gigabit LAN ports, the desktop mount and the in-wall enclosure. If you want to use your access point as a router, you should buy the AP11D. The AP12 and AP15 are both Wi-Fi 5 access points featuring omnidirectional antennas and three, or respectively four spatial streams. Both of them are considered high-end devices. The AP17 suits outdoor environments, thanks to its weatherproof casing.

Prior to showing you the results of our tests, let’s see a brief overview of the AP devices I’m comparing against.

For Wi-Fi 6 units, the comparison encompasses the AP22 vs. the UniFi Wi-Fi 6 Lite and the Wi-Fi 6 Long Range. Both U6-Lite and the AP22 are 2 spatial stream devices and in a similar price range. The U6-LR features 4 spatial streams on its 5 GHz radio, but it is also more expensive, at around £178 / €213. Nonetheless, it performs slightly better than the two others in terms of power transmission. It’s worth mentioning here, though, that the AP22 is the only Wi-Fi 6 access point on the 2.4 GHz radiofrequency.

For Wi-Fi 5 access points, the comparison includes the AP22 vs. the UniFi AC-Pro and AC-HD. The AC-Pro is an older device featuring the 802.11ac Wave 1 standard. It provides three spatial streams on its 5GHz and 2.5GHz frequencies. The AC-HD is a Wave 2 unit, with four spatial streams on both radio frequencies. This comparison is rather unfair, as the AC-HD costs around £257 / €308. It is, however, useful to help you understand what you can expect from a high-end Wi-Fi 5 access point. The cheapest of these devices is the AP11, retailing for £75 / €90. Please bear this in mind when you compare their performance.

All numbers in the following tests express the average throughput in Mbps over minimum five-minute-long iPerf TCP tests. We ran our numbers several times, in order to provide you with accurate results. Chances are you won’t obtain the same values on your network, but these results should provide you with an overall idea of the performance of these access points. If you want to understand the logic behind our testing methods and to see our exact testing setup, you’ll find all details by the end of this article.

The first battery of tests starts from the ideal situation of a client located near a clean channel. In real life, you can expect to see less throughput. This scenario aims to test the theoretical capability of the access point and the amount of data it can deliver to a single client.

  • Wi-Fi 6 Speed Comparison
  • 2.4 GHz Speed Comparison

Our first goal was to test all of the units on 2.4 GHz, on both 20 MHz and 40 MHZ channels. In real life, the use of a 40 MHz channel in the 2.4 GHz radio frequency isn’t the best idea ever, as there’s simply too much overlapping in this busy spectrum. There are only two non-overlapping 40 MHz channels in the UK, so the frequency doesn’t suffice to ensure the expected reliability in most situations.

In the best-case scenario, we can obtain a double throughput, but the experience is not the best, as there would be issues with interference and lower range coverage. The quoted data rates for 2.4 GHz of most models on the market rely on this 40 MHz channel testing. Normal 2×2 clients, though, would rather use 20 MHz channels with 150 Mbps data rates than 40 MHz channels with 300 Mbps. When it comes to Wi-Fi 6, upper limits become 287/574 MHz, but only for the AP22.

Out of all these six AP models, the AP22 is the only one that supports Wi-Fi 6 over the 2.4 GHz frequency. The Wi-Fi 5 only worked with the 5 GHz radio. Both the U6-Lite and the U6-LR used the older 2.4 GHz band supporting Wi-Fi 4. The results are in line with expectations. This isn’t such a tight competition.

The results showcase the impact of higher 1024-QAM modulation, as well as a longer Wi-Fi 6 symbol duration. In theory, this results in a 30% increase in data transmission rates. In most situations, though, the throughput difference ranges somewhere between 10 – 20%. In the ideal scenario, and when you’re close to the AP, the gap is higher. For testing purposes, we were using a two-stream client. Chances are that the additional spatial streams of the AC-Pro and AC-HD didn’t influence the results, except for a slight beamforming improvement.

The AP22 is the only device with the capability to make full use of the higher modulation rates and the longer Wi-Fi 6 symbol duration. This is the explanation for its higher max data rate and increased throughput. All other devices in this test had similar performance, as they were all operating at slower modulation rates. Even though real-life numbers may not be as dramatic as our results, we can safely say that the AP22 is the winner in the 2.4 GHz band.

5 GHz Speed Comparison

Our next test used the 20 MHz, 40 MHz and 80 MHz channels in the 5 GHz band. At 80 MHz, all Wi-Fi 5 units maxed out at the data rate of 867 Mbps. That wasn’t unusual but rather expected. The AP22, the U6-Lite and the U6-LR maxed out at 1200 Mbps. The biggest difference in terms of Wi-Fi 6 impact was recorded at 80 MHz. This shows that it is possible to obtain a speed near the gigabit range. Nevertheless, such speeds require either 160 MHz widths or the presence of a third spatial stream. In addition, the devices need to perform in near-ideal conditions and a very short range, just like I’m using for testing purposes.

Special note: At 20 MHz, the AC-Pro was better than the AP11. On wider channels, it rather struggled.

Wi-Fi 5 Speed Comparison With A 3×3 Client

This test shows how an additional spatial stream can affect the results, even in the absence of the longer symbol duration and high-end modulation of Wi-Fi 6. We were happy with the conditions of this test, as it allowed for a more even playfield. The 4×4 MIMO 5 GHz bands of the U6-LR and AC-HD rightfully ruled.

Thanks to its 3×3 dual bands, the AC-Pro can take a third spatial stream. However, We were surprised to see it performing rather poorly. The AC-Pro scored the worst result of all on the 80 MHz channel. As the other access points only support two spatial streams, they can’t possibly match the highest data rates of the AC-Pro. Under these circumstances, the AP11, AP22, and U6-Lite weren’t able to beat the AC-Pro, which lost the fight only at 80 MHz.

You can also see in this chart how a 20 MHz channel, working in conjunction with a third spatial stream, can shove a higher amount of data over the 5 GHz band. The explanation is the high data rates of Wi-Fi 5 networks that use 256-QAM modulation. In the Wi-Fi 5 standard, the 2.4 GHz didn’t suffer any modification, so it maxed out at 64-QAM, just as expected. The result is a lower throughput and a lower data rate. The U6-LR and the AC-HD share common premises in this test, both featuring three spatial streams, 256-QAM, and up to 1,300 Mbps data transfer rates. The AC-Pro scored worse than its competitors on wider channels. The AP22 was the best of all two-stream access points.

Wi-Fi Range And Distance Tests

2.4 GHz Distance Tests

For this test, we used our 2×2 Wi-Fi 6 client. We tested the range by moving the devices to three different spots in our office. Our goal was to show how the distance between the client and the AP can influence the signal. All previous tests involved very close range, as they intended to compare those access points in a best-case scenario. The current test is more relevant to real-life situations. The 12-15 feet and one wall results are much closer to what users see in everyday life settings.

The bigger the distance and the more obstructions, the weaker the Wi-Fi signal. In fact, the 5 GHz signal attenuates faster and reaches about 50% of the range of 2.4 GHz. As a rule of the thumb, you shouldn’t expect a 5 GHz coverage to stretch beyond two walls or 30 feet distance. This should allow you to determine the number of access points you’ll need to benefit from full coverage throughout your entire house. The 2.4 GHz signal provides better coverage, but walls can significantly slow down its speed. In the clear line of sight conditions, the AP range can extend to impressive values. However, every wall will take a toll on the overall performance of your network. The material your walls are made from will also have a direct influence on the range of your Wi-Fi network.

After running these tests on our U6-Lite and U6-LR units, We changed the location of our intended ’30 feet and two walls’ setting. The result was a steep drop in both signal and throughput. You can see how the access point performs in 2.4 GHz networks with signals hovering around -65 dBm RSSI and 20-25 SNR. The U6-Lite was limited by its lower EIRP, leading to lower SNR and modulation rates. The AP22 was the winner in the closer tests but failed to match the performance of the U6-LP at range.

5 GHz Distance Tests

I replicated the above test for the 5 GHz band at 80 MHz. Wider channels are best for speed, but they also call for a stronger signal. At the most remote location, there was no more speed advantage of the 5 GHz over 2.4 GHz. Under the conditions of a network signal hovering around -80 dBm RSSI and 10 SNR, 2.4 GHz connections are more stable and stronger than 5 GHz ones.

The farther away you move, the beamforming effect becomes more and more obvious in both the AC-HD and U6-LR units. They can compensate by directing transmissions to reach the farthest client. The U6-LR was the winner at the farthest location. That’s where it scored much better than the AP22. its high transmission power and beamforming provide this AP with a clear competitive edge over the AP22, U6-Lite or any other units we tested. The U6-LR requires nothing but a few more dBm to punch through an additional wall or to cover a broader area.

If we moved a bit more outside this range, the 2.4 GHz connections recorded a slowing down, while the 5 GHz ones dropped and became merely unusable. Normal clients would behave just as expected. These results show beyond any reasonable doubt that using Wi-Fi with SNR values around 10 dBm is a poor choice.

Test Results Conclusions

The AP22 is definitely better than the entry-level AP11 model, without making the AP11 a bad device, though. At £71/ €85, the AP11 is a very interesting choice. In some situations, it can score better than the AC-Pro, a device that costs around £126 / €152. The Wi-Fi 6 standard doesn’t provide such a massive speed increase to be worth the price difference. The most interesting comparison is the one that looks at Instant On APs: the AP22 vs the AP12 and the AP15. This is a topic for another article, as we didn’t test them in due time to add them to this comparison.

I found the AP22 vs. U6-Lite comparison quite interesting. At £105 / €125, the U6-Lite is significantly cheaper than the AP22. Nevertheless, the AP22 has a much better 2.4 GHz performance than the U6-Lite across most of these tests. Both these access points are good devices, provided that you can get them at a reasonable price. The AP22 is better, but the U6-LR isn’t bad either, and it comes at a lower price.

There’s a significant range difference between the AP22 and the U6-LR, and that could call for an additional AP to cover a specific area. In some situations, one U6-LR would do, while in other situations, you may be better off buying two AP22 units. we can’t make any general recommendations here.

In our office, we use one U6-LR per floor and that’s just perfect. Should we choose AP22 devices, I’d still use one for each floor, but I’d probably add a second one on the main floor, in order to get a more even 5 GHz coverage. The overall performance would be the same, so everything boils down to whether you care about 5 GHz speed and coverage. When it comes to larger homes or outdoor coverage, I’d recommend two access points on either side of the building.

If you consider upgrading from a lower-power access point, the AP22 would do just fine, as it would provide similar coverage. The U6-LR would provide a better range, as it is up to par with most devices on the market. Only high-power mesh kits provide a higher range than that.

Instant On Cloud Portal And Settings

Last but not least, let’s take a closer look at the Instant-On software. In order to control the Aruba Instant On-access point, you must use the Aruba Instant On cloud portal. we provided you with an overview of our Instant We also intend to write a more in-depth comparison of Instant On vs. UniFi. For now, though, we only want to talk about the Instant-On cloud portal and its main features.

The Instant On cloud portal provides seamless setup and remote access, but only offers a limited number of settings. In terms of Wi-Fi radio settings, you can only control the channel width, channel selection and transmission power. This isn’t as bad as it may seem, as Aruba takes care of all other options and settings in an automatic manner.

Instant On was launched in 2019. Since then, regular software updates added new items to the cloud interface. I’m sorry to say, though, that UniFi provides a hard to equal array of settings. If you are a tinkerer, you’d be better off with UniFi. However, if you only want the things to work as expected without you having to mess up with settings and tweaks, Instant On is what you need.

The downside of UniFi is that the software is buggy and rather unstable. Aruba is able to provide a seamless and rewarding user experience, but it doesn’t cater to RF nerds like me. We do find pleasure in tweaking things around, so we feel frustrated whenever we have to give up control to automation. The Instant On portal and mobile app do their job as expected, even though they offer a limited range of controls. If you want more control over your network settings, you’ll have to buy an enterprise-grade Instant AP instead, and perhaps an Aruba WLAN controller, as well.

If you don’t want anything more than the basics, you’ll be happy with the Aruba Instant On portal and mobile app. The software is good, even though not stellar. For more than that, check out UniFi or other vendors.

Router Mode

I’d like to share a few considerations on the router mode. Most people use Aruba Instant On APs for Wi-Fi. Nevertheless, these devices can work as a basic NAT router, as well. The AP11D, with its three LAN ports, is the best choice for this purpose. The AP22 also works as a router, but it only has one Ethernet port, so it doesn’t work so well for multi-AP networks.

When using any of these Instant On APs as a router, you won’t have access to too many settings in the Instant-On portal. The only things you can do are to create multiple networks and SSIDs and to select your desired subnet. You won’t have any firewall rules control, port forwarding, or other such features you’d expect from a router. We would use Instant ON access points with a separate router because we don’t think Instant On devices offers enough features for our needs.

Overall Considerations On The AP22 And AP11/AP11D

The AP22 is our first recommendation to most people who intend to use Instant-On networks. Since it is so much better than all Wi-Fi 5 models, it’s hard for me to recommend these models over the AP22. Since it is the only Wi-Fi 6 device Instant On offers, for now, it is the default winner.

It’s worth mentioning here that the AP22 stands the comparison against the UniFi 6 Lite quite well. The U6-Lite is cheaper, but it offers less range and no Wi-Fi 6 on 2.4 GHz. The U6-LR is best at 5 GHz performance and it boasts the best range of all. The AP22 is the winner at 2.4 GHz, and it scores a decent performance at 5 GHz. The software is the biggest point of difference, but that’s not the topic of this article.

If you’re thinking to get a new Instant On the network, we highly recommend the AP22 as a better option than the AP11. Generally speaking, the more spatial streams, the bitter the multi-client performance values. This means that the AP12 and the AP15 should work better than the AP22 in high-density networks. we can’t wait for the new Wi-Fi 6 replacements to become available so that we can test them.

All these being said, we don’t think you should rush to upgrade to Wi-Fi 6 for the time being. The AP11 can cater to the needs of most small businesses or home networks. Significantly improved performance would call for spending double than simply stepping up to the AP22. Besides, if you need multiple LAN ports, you’ll need to go for the AP11D, as that’s your only available option.

Apart from the Wi-Fi 6 standard, there’s also the still remote promise of Wi-Fi 6E, which would bring in significant improvements in terms of speed. Both Wi-Fi 6 and Wi-Fi 6E are relevant only if your clients support these standards. Since there are relatively few Wi-Fi 6E devices on the market, chances are you won’t be using your newly upgraded network to the full for quite a while. If you need an upgrade sooner rather than later, we recommend either the AP11 or the AP22.

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