A more sophisticated hardware and software-based Wi-Fi solution has been pioneered by Ruckus Wireless, a small but rapidly growing WLAN equipment vendor. Ruckus' smart Wi-Fi technology is designed to enable its ZoneFlex range of access points to beam a highly directional Wi-Fi signal from its access points to the client devices that want to connect with it, thus reducing interference and congestion.
David Callisch, Ruckus' vice president of corporate marketing, explains: "Imagine you and I are in a big conference room. You shout at me but I can't hear you over the other conversations. But if we had a long tube between us you could talk down the tube and I would be able to put my ear to it and hear you better."
Its access points are able to make their Wi-Fi signals highly directional using a software-controlled antenna array, which is made up of multiple individual antenna elements. Pairs of these elements can be combined in real time by the software to form different antenna patterns.
"There are thousands of possible antenna pairs, and each pair beams in a different direction," says Callisch. "Our software can choose the best antenna pair at any given time, and as a client moves around we alter and optimize the beam using different antenna pairs. We can determine in microseconds which antenna pairs will yield the best results and switch so fast that you won't drop a packet."
The result, says Callisch, is a WLAN that offers up to three times faster performance, and one that reaches between two and four times farther. A side effect of this is that fewer access points are needed to cover an entire building, he adds, which reduces the hardware cost of rolling out a WLAN solution.
Ruckus claims that its access points cost about half as much as Cisco gear, and since half as many access points are needed, the cost of building a WLAN with Ruckus equipment is about 25% of the cost of a Cisco one. (Ruckus' ZoneFlex access points can use mesh networking to extend a WLAN with extra access points without the need for additional cabling. While this capability is not unique to Ruckus, it can help keep down costs.)
Smart Wi-Fi in Practice
That's the theory, anyway, but how true is all of this in practice? One organization that has tried the technology is Atlantic Aviation, a company that operates 65 facilities at airports around the country. Each multi-room facility offers free Wi-Fi access to customers and pilots, and 50 or more people may use it at any one time.