Ruckus targets enterprise Wi-Fi with lower pricing

The company's new mid-range line of enterprise IEEE 802.11n Wi-Fi access points starts at $499

Ruckus Wireless aims to lower the cost of entry to enterprise IEEE 802.11n Wi-Fi gear with a stepped-down line of access points it is introducing on Monday.

The ZoneFlex 7300 series has a smaller antenna array than the 7962, which Ruckus introduced last year, but is designed to compete on price against rival products from Cisco Systems and Aruba Networks. The single-band ZoneFlex 7343 starts at $499, and the dual-band 7363 at $599. Ruckus claims the 7343 is the first enterprise-class 802.11n access point priced under $500.

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Wi-Fi equipment using the 802.11n standard, which was formally ratified only last year, still makes up a relatively small portion of sales, according to research company Dell'Oro Group. In the fourth quarter, 802.11n products represented $146 million of the approximately $450 million in revenue for enterprise WLAN (wireless LAN) gear, according to Dell'Oro analyst Loren Shalinsky. That was despite the fact that 802.11n products generally cost more than ones that use the earlier 802.11a/b/g technology.

Price is one thing that keeps some enterprises from investing in 802.11n, Shalinsky said. This seems to be particularly true in the hospitality industry, he added. Hotels and restaurants are a key market for Ruckus, a relatively small company that has been going up against bigger names for years with technology designed to allow for multimedia streaming.

The ZoneFlex 7300 series access points have a theoretical maximum speed of 300M bps (bits per second) for the single-band 7343 model and 600M bps for the dual-band 7363. Both use Ruckus' BeamFlex dynamic beam-forming technology, which can change the path that data travels over the air on a packet-by-packet basis, according to Ruckus.

In real-world testing, the 7363 delivered as much as 200M bps of throughput in a typical office, depending on distance, Ruckus says.

With those prices, Ruckus hopes to persuade branch offices, clinics and schools to get 802.11n just as large enterprises, hospitals and universities are, said Niv Hanigal, director of product management at Ruckus. It is also targeting the hospitality market, where some high-end hotels have already started investing in 802.11n as an infrastructure for multimedia services, he said.

Rock Bottom Restaurants, which owns restaurants around the U.S. under the Rock Bottom Brewery, Old Chicago and Chophouse & Brewery names, chose the 7300 line because it was looking for a secure WLAN infrastructure that could carry multimedia services, said Rob Jakoby, the company's vice president of IT. Most of Rock Bottom's 105 company-owned restaurants already have Wi-Fi networks for customer use, but the company wants to replace them with commercial-grade networks as the foundation for future applications.

For example, Rock Bottom wants to install devices that let customers pay the bill at their table with a credit card. That same device might play video and allow customers to leave comments and join a loyalty program, Jakoby said. The company wants to have the option to hook up some of those devices via Wi-Fi instead of running a cable to the table. Before business data such as payment information can flow over a restaurant's wireless LAN, it will have to be an enterprise-class network, he said. Customers could use their own smartphones and other Wi-Fi devices over the same network, because the system allows for eight different SSIDs (Service Set Identifiers), the names that appear for each visible network in an area.

Rock Bottom and its system integrator, OCx, picked the 7300 series because it offered that enterprise quality at a relatively low price, comparable to what bigger vendors such as Aruba and Cisco were charging for slower 802.11a/b/g gear, said OCx consultant Trinh Pham. Rock Bottom has deployed the gear as a test in two restaurants and found speeds as high as 200M bps, she said. One access point should be enough to cover each restaurant, but the company will deploy two so it can triangulate if necessary to find rogue access points, she said. The restaurants range from 5,000 to 15,000 square feet.

Ruckus' 7300 series units can be used as standalone access points or with a controller that manages multiple devices. Each is equipped with a USB port that can hold a dongle for a 3G or 4G wireless WAN (wide-area network) as the access point's primary link to the Internet or as a backup for wired Ethernet, Hanigal said. An access point with just a 3G uplink could be used for a purpose such as linking a temporary ticket kiosk at a music festival to the Internet, he said.

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