Meru access points capable of forming wireless backbone network

But at last month’s Interop trade show, Meru Networks announced its Wireless Backbone System (WBS), a software upgrade to its WLAN hardware scheduled to ship next month. WBS lets Wi-Fi access points communicate both with clients and with the backbone network over radio frequencies.

“As companies go to mobile technologies, they’re going to want this,” said William Stofega, research manager for voice over Internet Protocol at Framingham, Mass.-based IDC.

Stofega said some firms will want a wireless backbone system as a backup to a wired Ethernet network, while others will prefer it over opening up walls and ceilings to upgrade their networks.

“In any large-scale scale organization, there’s a lot of reorganization that happens throughout the year and some of these involve physical changes in the layout,” said Ihab Abu-Hakima, Meru’s chief executive officer. “There’s tremendous cost savings in not having to go through and rewire and move wires around and put in new switches and new cabling and so on.”

Some organizations are already using mesh networks – which route traffic among access points wirelessly – but Meru claims its system is more like an Ethernet switched network than mesh.

Nate Walker, Meru’s senior director of product management, said WBS has hierarchical bandwidth from the edge of the network through the access points to the core, and is secured by Advanced Encryption Standard.

WBS is a software upgrade to Meru’s AP208WB, a new version of the AP-2000 access point which costs US$1,295, and the Radio Switch RS4000-WB, a new version of the RS-4000 Radio Switch that costs US$2,995.

Walker said Meru puts all access points on one channel, which eliminates the requirement for network managers to conduct a site survey before installing the network.

“The IT department would take a look at the space they want to cover and they would say, ‘Okay, we’ll put an AP up every 40 or 50 feet,’ then you could walk around with a laptop or a Wi-Fi phone, and you see where you may have dropoff,” Walker said. “If you have any hole in coverage you could just stick another AP up in there it will go back to the controller, download the software it needs (and) coordinate with the other access points.”

WBS uses AirChannel technology, which allows clients to combine traffic from several single radio channels.

“We can put multiple single channels and essentially stack them or bond them together so that the bandwidth going into the core of the network is much higher than the access bandwidth out at the client,” Walker said.

The bandwidth available to the core of the network depends on the number of channels, he added. The RS-4000 has four separate radios, with four non-interfering 802.11a channels, each with 54 Mbps of bandwidth.

WBS also has quality of service features designed for voice traffic. Stofega said this will be attractive to companies wanting to install Wi-Fi phones or dual-mode handsets that work on both Wi-Fi and cellular networks.

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