Ruckus Introduces Beamforming for 802.11n

Ruckus Wireless has an interesting history. Founded in 2004 as Video54, the company's original mission was to bring the benefits of beamforming to low-cost residential Wi-Fi systems designed for media distribution. My tests of the original Ruckus products about four years ago showed performance on par with the (pre-802.11n) MIMO products of the day. There remains, however, a good deal of confusion about beamforming and MIMO, and this needs to be addressed in light of Ruckus' announcement today of the first products that combine both.

Ruckus is today a major supplier of not just wireless media distribution products (these aimed primarily at carriers and service providers), but also enterprise-class WLAN systems under the ZoneFlex brand. The announcement today extends these capabilities to up to 500 APs per controller, but what's of primary interest to me is their new 7962 AP which (as previously noted) combines (using 19 antennas!) MIMO and beamforming. As a refresher, MIMO is the use of two or more transmitting antennas, with each putting out a unique and distinct waveform. Beamforming also uses multiple antennas, but with the same waveform transmitted on each antenna. MIMO gets its gain from multipath and other signal processing; beamforming has the interesting property of being able to steer and focus the resulting transmission. While both are excellent techniques for dealing with the vagaries of radio transmission, the two together can yield amazing results. Cisco recently announced their beamforming solution, but this works only on .11g and .11a. Ruckus is the first WLAN company to combine MIMO (802.11n) and beamforming, and congratulations are in order. I've not yet tried the product, but I can't wait - this should be the best-performing .11n AP on the market.

Now, WLANs is a highly-competitive industry, and it won't be long before all of the major vendors incorporate beamforming (or produce good technical White Papers as to why it's not needed in their product line), with much of the innovation here driven, I suspect, by the Wi-Fi chip vendors, al least some of whom will (this year, I think) announce beamforming at the component level. Ruckus' implementation is chipset-independent, and there will also be good technical arguments over the best implementation strategy. Is this a fun business for nerds, or what?

Regardless, the rapid pace of innovation that makes Wi-Fi such an interesting field to work in continues unabated, and similarly continues to produce progress of enormous value to customers as well.

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