Our final presenters for Wireless Field Day 2 came from Ruckus Wireless. I had heard some interesting things about Ruckus and wanted to dig a little deeper into their technology. We arrived at the Ruckus offices and met up with GT Hill again, fresh from his appearance at the Wireless Mobility Symposium the previous Wednesday. We also met David Callisch, the vice president of marketing for Ruckus. Our conference room for the presentation was a little cramped, but it was packed to the gills with Ruckus technology and snacks of all kinds (including M&Ms and Jelly Belly jellybeans). They even had Diet Dr. Pepper! They also live their gimmick to the fullest, as all the snacks were served in Ruckus dog bowls and there were “Beware of Dog!” signs posted copiously throughout the office.
We kicked off with a quick chat with Selina Lo, president and CEO. She welcomed us and gave us a little info about Ruckus. Afterwards, David Callisch gave us the whole background of Ruckus and where their previous designs and implementations had focused. Ruckus seems to cater mostly to the carrier spaces, especially in challenging RF environments like large cities or very dense deployments. One of the nice side effects of this focus is that all the improvements in their technology from the carrier side filter down into the enterprise line of access points as well. That’s a great thing for those of us that don’t necessarily play in the large deployment space but want to enjoy the fruits of those labors.
Next, GT said that he had a special treat for us. He brought in one of the founders of Ruckus, Victor Shtrom. I could try to do this video justice, but I would fail:
If that didn’t make your brain explode, go back and watch it again. Victor has probably forgotten more about antenna design and waveform modulation that I’ll ever know. His dissection of issues encountered with beamforming and signal modulation had the same effect as my conversations with Matthew Gast the night before. Hence, I’m now running a few brain cells short due to explosion from awesome knowledge. This is what Tech Field Day is about. Access to the nerd knobs and the people that tweak them. I highly recommend watching that video more until you understand what makes the Ruckus AP antenna and software design so different.
After Victor’s 45 minutes of melting my brain, GT got back up to show us one of Ruckus’s cool little secrets, ChannelFly. According to GT, ChannelFly leverages the BeamFlex technology and software algorithms and using it to perform a channel analysis of the surrounding RF environment. We’ve always been told as wireless professionals that in the 2.4 GHz spectrum, channels 1, 6, and 11 are the targets for non-overlapping signals. The problem comes in the real world when every AP out there is on those three channels. What happens when we need to increase the AP density or retrofit APs into an existing design? Co-channel interference becomes a real issue. This is where the ChannelFly technology comes in. The Ruckus AP sits in the middle of all this interference. And it listens. ChannelFly usually takes about 24-48 hours to really dial in to the RF environment. Afterwards, it takes all the RF data that it has compiled and sets itself to the most appropriate channel to provide the highest throughput. It does this for all channels in 2.4 GHz, not just the magic three. The added side benefit from this is that the Ruckus APs can coexist with the current AP deployment without interference. That’s because the best channel with the highest throughput usually just happens to be the one with the least amount of interference for the RF environment. As I put it during the presentation, “ChannelFly makes everyone happy by being selfish.”
Towards the end, we got a bit of a quick presentation over 802.11u from David Stiff and Wilson So. David was a presenter at WFD1, albeit with a different organization. This time, he strayed from spectrum analysis and gave us some highlights of 802.11u. This technology is often referred to as “mobile hotspot”. It gives users the ability to join their phones to a WLAN using authentication from public areas. Think about your iDevice when you go into Starbucks. Thanks to the agreements that Apple has in place with Starbucks, your iDevice has free access to the Wi-Fi at any one of their locations. When you walk in the front door, you are instantly connected. It’s a cool way to ensure that you’re using the Wi-Fi whenever possible. Now, with 802.11u, extend that idea to be virtually any carrier device. Think about walking into a sports arena or a bank and getting instant Wi-Fi access from your carrier. Your phone’s SIM card authenticates you against the APs in the area and tells the carrier to offload your data package onto the wireless network instead of the cellular network. Do you think carriers are excited about conserving spectrum while simultaneously giving their customers high-speed data access? I’m sure they’re falling all over themselves to get this technology. Unlike last year, we got a live demonstration from Wilson So of 802.11u in action. The mobile phone authenticated via encrypted SIM and joined an AP cleverly hidden in a cardboard box. Not the flashiest demo out there, but when you think about what it takes to get the technology to the point where it not only works, but works reliably enough to demo in front of the Dragon’s Den of wireless audiences, that’s a pretty impressive demo indeed.
After our 802.11u discussion, we got a tour of the facilites from Steven Martin, vice president of engineering. He showed us some very interesting test chambers that Ruckus uses to isolate and sources of interference to provide a good reference for the antenna and software to work from. They can also introduce interference sources in the test chambers to measure how the BeamFlex technology adapts to different environments. Very cool stuff.
Ruckus’s Oprah Moment consisted of a Ruckus 7962 AP, a ZoneDirector management controller, and a couple of stuffed puppies. My kids especially like the big black lab stuffed pet. My little dog, on the other hand, isn’t as fond of it.
Ruckus is definitely the most interesting dog in the fight when it comes to RF technology. They have a unique perspective on creating value by addressing things that other vendors don’t bother with. They’ve got the technical talent and the rock stars to make a big splash, and their name comes up often when discussing new and innovative wireless technology. I think that by addressing the layer 1 RF issues, they’ve carved an interesting niche away from the wireless industry as a whole. Niches aren’t a bad thing in the least. They can either provide you a safe shelter to weather a storm. Or they can give you a nice base to launch from to take the industry by storm. Only time will tell what’s in store for the big dogs at Ruckus.
Wireless Field Day 2 Disclaimer
Ruckus was a sponsor of Wireless Field Day 2. As such, they were responsible for covering a portion of my travel and lodging expenses while attending Wireless Field Day 2. In addition, they provided me a Ruckus 7962 AP, a ZoneDirector management controller, and a couple of stuffed puppies. They did not ask for, nor where they promised any kind of consideration in the writing of this review/analysis. The opinions and analysis provided within are my own and any errors or omissions are mine and mine alone.