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The September 9, 2006 Issue Provided by System Dynamics Inc.
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Extending the Range of Metro Wi-Fi--Ruckus MetroFlex

Ruckus Wireless is a Silicon Valley startup with a different approach to Wi-Fi--based on smart antennas and smart software. Until now, all of their products were designed to improve the range and quality of Wi-Fi in the home, especially for networked video such as IPTV delivered by telephone companies. So we were surprised to receive a recent press release announcing a new Ruckus product designed to improve the performance of Metro Wi-Fi networks.

To follow up on the press release, we visited Ruckus and met with Selina Lo, President and CEO, and Hans Pang, Technical Marketing Engineer, at their headquarters in Sunnyvale, CA.

MediaFlex for IPTV

Ruckus 2825 connections --> Click for larger pictureWe first discussed the current MediaFlex products designed to facilitate IPTV and data distribution from a DSL modem. The MediaFlex Router connects to the DSL modem and routes data and media content throughout the house over 802.11g Wi-Fi. The latest model 2825 5-port multimedia Wi-Fi router provides four Ethernet ports for PCs and other wired devices plus 802.11g for remote wireless devices.

Ruckus MediaFlex Adapter --> Click for larger pictureAt the other end, a MediaFlex Adapter is connected to an IPTV set top box at each TV. Both devices uses Ruckus's innovative antenna technology and software--as we described in Wireless Video Networking - Ruckus, Metalink and EWC (BBHR 10/17/2005)--to provide reliable transmission.

Hans said the system could handle "three streams of standard-definition video in a 2500 square foot home" with an aggregate data rate of 15 to 25 Mbps. He told us these MediaFlex products are being deployed by telephone companies around the world, including PCCW in Hong Kong, Magnet Networks in Ireland, and "lots of rurals in North America" such as Pioneer Telephone.

MetroFlex for Metro Wi-Fi

Selina Lo, Ruckus Wireless CEO, with MediaFlex and MetroFlex devices --> Click for larger pictureWe then discussed the new MetroFlex product. This is designed to overcome the limitations of Metro Wi-Fi when used to provide high-speed data services inside people's homes. Even a high-power Wi-Fi access point has relatively limited range. Walls and windows of houses tend to block signals, sometimes requiring the costly professional installation of an outdoor antenna to get a good signal. Even if the signal is received successfully inside the house, most consumer Wi-Fi devices have very low power transmitters, and can't be heard back at the Metro Wi-Fi access point.

The Ruckus MetroFlex wireless access gateway overcomes these limitations with a modified version of the antenna and software technologies used in MediaFlex. Selina said that although the MetroFlex device uses the same packaging as the MediaFlex units, it has a different interior. It has a 200 mw transmitter--considerably higher power than most consumer Wi-Fi devices.

Ruckus MetroFlex antennas --> Click for larger pictureSelina said Ruckus had to engineer a different antenna configuration for the MetroFlex product, designed specifically for Metro Wi-Fi: "it's dual polarized with two vertical elements".

Ruckus says MetroFlex is compatible with "any standard metro-scale Wi-Fi mesh network" and is compliant with wireless mesh network systems sold by Tropos Networks and BelAir Networks. Selina said that with MetroFlex a Metro Wi-Fi system could serve a range of 1 kilometer from each access point, and could expect real data rates of 7 Mbps at that range.

Selina said Ruckus strives to engineer its products so they can be sold at an attractive price; the MetroFlex gateways have a list price of $129. Ruckus has announced initial MetroFlex deployments in several cities, including Cheetah Wireless in Las Vegas and in the suburbs of Toronto.

Ruckus and 802.11n

We asked how Ruckus technology would work when 802.11n--the next generation of Wi-Fi now in development--comes to market. We observed that the 802.11n standard already includes several smart antenna features, and asked whether Ruckus still had a role to play.

Selina said that Ruckus expects to be "a layer on top of 11n". She observed that "the amount of interference in the environment will increase"--especially in the 2.4 GHz band--and that the Ruckus antenna and software technologies would help to overcome the interference.

With many "draft 11n" products already coming to market, Ruckus expects to demonstrate its "value add on top of 11n" during the first quarter of 2007.

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