Aruba Instant On AP12 review: An outstanding SMB solution

Highly affordable for small businesses, Aruba’s Instant On makes wireless network installation a piece of cake

Aruba Instant On AP12

IT Pro Verdict


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    Great value

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    Simple setup and management

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    Good speeds


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Aruba may be best known for its enterprise wireless gear, but its Instant On range of wireless APs and network switches is aimed at SMBs, with a focus on making setup and management as easy as possible.

The Instant On AP12 on test is a Wave 2 dual-band AP, offering speeds of up to 1,300Mbits/sec over its 5GHz radio and 300Mbits/sec on the 2.4GHz band. The kit we reviewed includes ceiling-mount brackets, but no power supply: Instead, this AP requires a PoE source connected to its Gigabit Ethernet uplink port.

For this, we turned to Aruba’s 1930 8G PoE switch. This costs £163 and offers eight Gigabit Ethernet ports – each supporting PoE+ with a total power budget of 124W – along with two fibre Gigabit uplinks. You can use your own injector or switch, but the Aruba makes a great partner for the AP12 as it integrates seamlessly and is managed from the same console.

Installation is as simple as you could ask for. If you can use a mobile or tablet, you can deploy this AP: all we had to do was download the free Instant On app onto an iPad, then connect the AP12 to the switch and power it all up.

The app guides you through the connection process, automatically discovering any unclaimed APs within range. After registering the hardware, you simply need to enter a few settings to define and name your first secure wireless network, and you’re done.

With your network up and running, the app dashboard gives you the lowdown on your active wireless networks, client connections, data transferred over the past 24 hours and the number of managed devices. Tapping on any of these displays takes you to an expanded view where you can see more details and modify settings.

You can also configure up to eight wireless networks per site from the app. For each SSID you can enable WPA2 or WPA3 encryption, enforce different per-client bandwidth limits and set which radio bands should be active. You can also enable Layer 2 (L2) isolation, which blocks clients from each other – meaning that they only get internet access – as well as set a schedule to determine when each network should be available.

Tapping on the data transfer widget lets you view real-time traffic rates – but, more excitingly, it also lets you see exactly what’s using your bandwidth. The Aruba software recognises a huge range of application types, and sorts traffic into 20 different categories including email, business, utilities and gaming, plus malicious sites. If you want to selectively shut down a particular type of activity, one tap on its bar blocks all further access to it.

To enable cloud management, you simply need to sign up for a free Instant On portal account. You can then access the web console, which presents exactly the same design and features as the mobile app, and adds facilities for creating custom portals for wireless guests.

As well as being easy to manage, we found the AP12 impressively speedy for a Wi-Fi 5 AP. Large file copies between a Windows 10 Pro desktop equipped with a Netgear Nighthawk AC1900 USB adapter and a server on the LAN were completed at an average of 71MB/sec at close range, dropping to 64MB/sec at a distance of 10m. You’re unlikely to need a faster Wi-Fi connection than that, and 3x3 MU-MIMO will help performance hold up at busy times.

A final strength is Aruba’s meshing technology, which is a great inclusion for the price. When we plugged in a second AP12 AP at the far end of the lab, it took two minutes for the mobile app to discover it, and then a single tap to add it to our network as a meshed AP.

If you’re worried about the cost and complexity of wireless network management, Aruba’s Instant On is a brilliant solution. The AP12 offers an excellent range of features for a very reasonable price, and the slick, user-friendly mobile app will have you up and running in no time.

Aruba Instant On AP12 specifications

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Band supportWave 2 AC1600 dual-band 2.4GHz/5GHz 802.11ac
Radios3x3 MU-MIMO
PortsGigabit PoE
Additional featuresWall/ceiling mounting plate
Dimensions (WDH)167 x 167 x 34mm
Dave Mitchell

Dave is an IT consultant and freelance journalist specialising in hands-on reviews of computer networking products covering all market sectors from small businesses to enterprises. Founder of Binary Testing Ltd – the UK’s premier independent network testing laboratory - Dave has over 45 years of experience in the IT industry.

Dave has produced many thousands of in-depth business networking product reviews from his lab which have been reproduced globally. Writing for ITPro and its sister title, PC Pro, he covers all areas of business IT infrastructure, including servers, storage, network security, data protection, cloud, infrastructure and services.