By Eric Griffith
May 2, 2005
This week at Interop in Las Vegas, Meru Networks unveiled a new family of products it calls Radio Switches. Each unit comes with a different number of radios inside (4, 8 or 12) and uses a specially designed omni-directional antenna to layer all the 802.11 channels in the area for higher capacity.
Using the smarts of a Meru central switch — a mix of its Air Traffic Control and Cellular WLAN technologies — the network uses every channel available (3 in 802.11b/g and 12 in 802.11a) to blanket an area around the Radio Switch, yet avoid interference and contention issues.
“We have the ability to uniquely layer channels on top of each other,” says Ben Gibson, vice president of marketing at Meru, describing what the company calls the ‘Virtual Cell.’ “We can do up to 12 channels at once [under 802.11a], getting up to 640 Megabits per second of capacity.”
The new system, he stresses, is designed for crowded, high density environments with lots of simultaneous users where, Gibson says, “conventional WLANs are breaking.” Examples include college lecture halls and the floors of trades shows or stock exchanges.
“This layered approach to channels means far greater capacity,” he adds. It is not a replacement for the existing Meru equipment, which is used in regular corporate deployments.
Meru thinks Radio Switches will simplify deployment headaches, since in select venues they could mean fewer APs, and thus fewer cables pulled.
The system is not mean to extend distance. It does not use sectorized, directional antennas, like Xirrus is using in its WLAN Array. Xirrus does expect one array could cover an entire building floor this way, but Meru points out that the capacity of that sector is still only one channel — and tops out at 54Mbps to all in that sector. Also, the directional signal could be prone to bouncing on obstructions such as walls, furniture or even people.
“For these [indoor] applications, like halls and show floors, we felt the omni-directional approach was best,” says Gibson.
Meru says the Radio Switches with layered channels will have much higher user capacity. The company sees “light” or “thin” access points deployed in high quantity, each on a separate channel, as having less than half the overall capacity for traffic that the Radio Switches will have. The company also thinks the total cost of ownership of the Radio Switches versus thin APs will be almost half the amount of money. Much of the savings will come in by eliminating extra cabling and labor.
The various Radio Switches will be priced at $1,595 for the four-radio RS-4000; $2,995 for the eight-radio RS-8000, and $4,195 for the twelve-radio RS-12000. They should be available in July.