Connecting Access Points Sans Ethernet

By Eric Griffith

May 02, 2006

Meru says its new architecture for corporate WLANs will do away with (almost) all the wires.

Flush with an additional $25 million in financing and entering what it calls a pre-IPO phase, voice-centric WLAN switch maker Meru Networks of Sunnyvale, California debuts a new way to deploy its switches and access points that eliminates almost all the Ethernet cables.

Ihab Abu-Hakima, President and CEO of Meru, calls the new Wireless Backbone System "wireless end-to-end." While that's not entirely true — at least one Meru Radio Switch unit still has to be cabled back to a central Meru Controller — the rest of the network, including extra Radio Switches and everything out to the access points, is all done without wires.

Abu-Hakima says the economic benefits are significant over pulling cable —he estimates a savings of as much as 70 percent from building out Enterprise LANs with this system. Plus, he feels the advent of an all-wireless enterprise shows "a transformation underway to wireless being used for business-critical networks." In the future, he believes companies in greenfield deployments with no existing wired infrastructure won't even bother to consider cable. "They'll put high priority traffic on the wireless," he says.

To support this, Meru needed a new low-end access point, the Meru AP150-WB, featuring dual radios (one for client access, another for backhaul connections). They've also upgraded the AP-200 to the AP208-WB (existing AP-200 customers can get the upgrade) and made a new version of the Radio Switch, the RS4000-WB. New Wireless Backbone software runs the system from the controller on out.

"The way to think of this is, like with other WLAN players, we've untethered clients' access," says Abu-Hakima. "Now, with multi-radio features in the Radio Switch supporting the wireless backbone, we untether the distribution layer as well."

When comparing this to mesh — which it is not — Abu-Hakima says a major difference is the ability of the APs and Radio Switches to simultaneously transmit and receive, offering full-duplex service to get higher capacity. Also built in is AES encryption and Quality of Service features for voice and video.

The Wireless Backbone updates and products should be ready by July. The new AP150-WB costs $995, the AP208-WB is $1,295 (upgrade from the AP208 is $595), and RS4000-WB is $2,995 (upgrade the RS4000 for $1,595).  

Meru announced the products at the Interop show in Las Vegas this week, along with field tests to verify the interoperability between Meru's systems and SpectraLink's NetLink Wireless Telephone system.

Meru isn't exactly the first in this regard, if you look at companies like Xirrus, which provides a WLAN array that serves as both the switch and set of high-power, sectorized APs covering 360 degrees in one unit. In fact, that company is also at Interop, announcing a new software for its Array to provide  a "bonded multi-radio, multi-backhaul functionality" to eliminate cable runs to new areas of an office. It can create up to four 162Mbps backhaul links using three of the integrated APs together.

Version 2.0 of the Xirrus software should be available to all existing customers by the end of May.

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