Ruckus brings dual-band 11n to outdoor Wi-Fi

The WLAN specialist will introduce fast, weather-proof, dual-band access points on Monday

Ruckus Wireless plans to bring outdoor access points up to full speed with its ZoneFlex 7762 access point, which can use fast draft IEEE 802.11n technology on two frequency bands simultaneously.

Most of the customers Ruckus talks to, including schools, hotels, and general enterprises, have some outdoor areas they want to cover with Wi-Fi, said David Callisch, vice president of marketing. The company has served those customers both with an indoor AP (access point) in a lightweight outdoor enclosure and with an 802.11a/b/g outdoor system, the ZoneFlex 2741, introduced last month. The 7762, set to be announced on Monday, is one of the first outdoor APs to support 802.11n and is the first that can use both supported bands -- 5.8GHz and 2.4GHz -- at the same time, according to Ruckus.

Ruckus is dwarfed by Wi-Fi monolith Cisco Systems but has made its name with multiple-antenna technologies designed to make signals faster and more resilient. The company also aims to undercut Cisco and other well-known vendors on price, offering the new AP for US$1,999 without the need for as many extra-cost components as competing products require. The comparable cost for a Cisco Aironet 1522 outdoor AP, with slower 802.11a/b/g technology, would be $4,300, according to Ruckus. The 7762 will begin shipping worldwide in August, with comparable pricing outside the U.S.

The company's smart antenna features are built in to the 7762, which can use "dynamic beamforming" to keep up a steady high-speed backhaul link into an overall Wi-Fi mesh, Callisch said. That link can run on the 5.8GHz spectrum while the 2.4GHz band is used to reach users' devices. The outdoor APs can be combined with indoor units in a single, centrally managed mesh, according to Ruckus. The 7762 also includes standard POE (power over Ethernet) ports for connected devices such as surveillance cameras.

In enterprises, outdoor Wi-Fi typically serves as an "extension cord" for indoor networks, particularly in specialized settings such as schools, said Burton Group analyst Paul DeBeasi. A more high-profile application of outdoor Wi-Fi has been municipal wireless networks, which several cities planned to use for citywide Internet access before political and business challenges got in the way. Ruckus believes these grand schemes are giving way to more targeted hotspots in locations densely packed with people seeking connectivity.

Networx Solutions, in Panama City, Florida, used Ruckus's ZoneFlex 2741 APs to bring Wi-Fi to the Sunbird condominium complex in Panama City Beach. Though DSL and cable modem service are available in the 288-unit complex, many of the condominiums are rented out to vacationers, and Sunbird provides a password-protected Wi-Fi service for them. Networx covered the two towers and clubhouse with just six Ruckus ZoneFlex 2741 APs and has found good performance all over the complex, said Networx President Stephen Durr. In addition, the outdoor-hardened units haven't needed restarting since they were installed early this year, he said.

The 2741 runs both mesh links and end-user connectivity on the 2.4GHz band. Durr is looking forward to testing the upcoming 7762, which can use two radio bands and has a theoretical maximum throughput of 300Mb per second (Mbps) compared with 54Mbps on the current gear. That would allow Sunbird to support more simultaneous users while still providing good performance, Durr said.

The latest Wi-Fi technologies take time to get outside because outdoor APs make up only a small part of the overall Wi-Fi business, Burton Group's DeBeasi said. But just as wireless LANs expanded from specialized settings such as schools and hospitals to standard offices, they are now advancing on outdoor settings so users can have pervasive access, he said. Service providers are also motivated to build and improve their Wi-Fi hotspots, partly as an escape valve for data traffic such as video that would otherwise fill up their 3G (third generation) cellular networks, he said.

There is still room for smaller, wireless-specific vendors such as Ruckus, especially in the medium-sized business market, DeBeasi said. But in the next three years or so, as wireless LANs become more central to enterprises and replace some wired networks, the industry may consolidate into larger companies, he said. Vendors such as Cisco and Hewlett-Packard, which offer a more complete range of products, are likely to benefit from wireless LANs becoming more mainstream, he said. But it's still a pioneer market today.

"At this stage in the development of the market, there's still very solid growth," DeBeasi said.

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