The products, which include including two outdoor mesh access points, a backhaul antenna system, and a customer premise gateway, combined are called Wireless Broadband Access (WBA) and rely on unlicensed Wi-Fi spectrum using the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) 802.11g and the faster, recently-approved 802.11n specification, Ruckus officials said. The products will be available to enterprises through third parties as well.
Fewer access points (APs) are required with the technology, with greater reliability of connections through “beam forming” technology, which helps reduce costs, said David Callisch, director of marketing at Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Ruckus. Beam forming is basically the ability to focus a radio beam for a more reliable connection, avoiding obstacles.
Regarding relative wireless costs, Callisch said one square kilometer of area could cost $500,000 to equip using hardware that meets the Wireless Interoperability for Microwave Access, or WiMAX standard, but would cost $100,000 with WBA.
He said one carrier in Mumbai is able to serve 3,000 homes with 15 Wi-Fi APs from Ruckus, down from 200 APs with conventional technology. The worst case of Wi-Fi throughput using an 802.11n Ruckus AP would provide 150 megabits per second (Mbps) throughput at a distance comparable to three footballs fields, Callisch said.
The new Ruckus products are available now. The point-to-point bridge (a type of antenna), called the ZoneFlex 7731 and used for backhaul connections, is priced at $2,398 per pair, the company said. Two APs, called the ZF2741 for 802.11g, and ZF7762 for 802.11n, sell for $899 and $1,999 respectively. A customer premise wireless gateway, to extend Wi-Fi signals indoors, sells for $159.
Management software used in wireless zones is sold in rack units starting at $1,200 and systems management software for central network operations centers starts at $5,000.
Callisch said the end-to-end collection of Ruckus products could offer wireless Internet connectivity to entire communities of businesses and homes with improvements on older Metro Wi-Fi technology, a wireless access approach that has fallen out of favor in some cities largely due to funding issues.
“This is sort of Metro Wi-Fi 2.0 technology, with an actual business model,” Callisch said in an interview.
Ruckus cited several service providers already rolling out the technology, including WiNet Broadband, a network operator serving Malaysia, which plans to roll out the WBA technology to service 250,000 customers by the end of 2010.
In the U.S., Triad Telecom is rolling out Ruckus gear and has several installations already deployed that are “working well,” said Don Annas, president of Triad, based in Greensboro, N.C., in an e-mail. Triad offers voice over IP services to mid-sized and large businesses nationwide, and is also a wireless ISP for smaller businesses that have about 300 users.
The principal benefit of using Ruckus is that it requires minimal installation time because it limits in-depth site surveys normally associated with Wi-Fi, Annas said. Service calls are also reduced because the equipment is adaptive, he said, because it helps find consistent connections between network nodes through beam-forming technology.
“We have found no downside with this technology,” Annas said. Previous attempts with Wi-Fi have come from Cisco Systems Inc., Motorola Inc. and Trango Systems Inc., but Ruckus has proved easier to deploy, with consistent performance, the best warranty and better support. “They are much easier to work with,” Annas added.
Craig Mathias, an analyst at Farpoint Group, said he is hoping to test the new gear from Ruckus to evaluate how well the beam-forming technology works. “Beam forming is a little controversial, and there are other techniques in use,” Mathias said.
Still, he said Ruckus told him it provides up to 19 antennas in a single AP to improve the signal being transmitted. “We want to see how well it can track or how much added benefit is derived,” he said.
But overall, Mathias called Ruckus “one of the most innovative companies out there” with a good management team. The outdoor components of the WBA technology from Ruckus could compete with products from Cisco, Meru Networks, Aruba Networks and others, but he said it is hard to judge what products will be directly competitive with WBA.
WBA will primarily do well in emerging economies such as Malaysia where a service provider can offer wireless Internet to multiple dwelling units, Mathias theorized. “They are not trying to blanket an entire town like Tropos did with Metro Wi-Fi, just small groups of structures,” Mathias said.
“However, the fundamentals of Metro Wi-Fi stay the same with Ruckus,” Mathias said. “People say that Metro Wi-Fi is dead, but that’s not the case. This is very vibrant technology, building on a trend started 10 years ago. Now costs are down and Ruckus is in very good shape. Wi-Fi can grow.”