Ruckus Wireless yesterday announced their groundbreaking 7300 series of access points, said ground being broken because of the remarkable price/performance these products bring. The single-radio 7343 is $499, and the dual-band/dual-radio 7363 is $599 - this for an enterprise-class AP that can operate standalone or with a controller, and which includes beamforming as a standard feature. Note this isn't the same beamforming implementation as their top-of-the-line 19-antenna 7962, but, as we saw in some basic testing we did, the return-on-beamforming is excellent nonetheless.
To get a rough read on just what beamforming can do, we tested a 7363 in our lab. For a baseline, we used a Linksys WRT350N AP and a Linksys WGA600N client. The geometry was pretty much a torture test, straight up through a floor and, in this case, cabinetry with a granite counter top. The benchmark used was Iperf 1.7.0, running a TCP workload with a 128K window size over 90 seconds in each direction. I used Channel 1, 40 MHz., and WPA2/AES. The Linksys combination turned in a respectable average of the two directions of 59.45 Mbps. I then substituted the Ruckus 7363 for the WRT350N, with the same settings, and everything else the same. The average in this case was 80.4 Mbps, a 35% improvement.
Beamforming, I think I've mentioned before, is just as important as 802.11n itself, and is currently with respect to market awareness and penetration about where MIMO was back in 2004. I think eventually beamforming will be viewed as essential in enterprise-class APs, and will also make its way into many residential/SMB devices as well. This will take a while for reasons of cost, but, as we can easily see in the Ruckus announcement, costs and thus prices decline in wireless the same as they do in the rest of high tech, as we move as an industry down the experience curve.
I've followed Ruckus' progress since their very early days as Video54 (guess what the emphasis was at that time), and I continue to be impressed by their strong positioning in price/performance, ease-of-use, and product-line breadth. They've always been a technology leader, and have achieved full membership in the enterprise-class WLAN space. The competition is undoubtedly looking at this announcement with great interest.
Mathias is a principal at Farpoint Group, a wireless advisory firm in Ashland, Mass.