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Ruckus Brings Muni WiFi Home

Light Reading
News Analysis
Light Reading
7/28/2006
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Expanding on its plans to for home WiFi, Ruckus Wireless Inc. is getting into the metro scene.

Ruckus says its new 802.11b/g wireless access gateway product, called MetroFlex, will provide uninterrupted indoor access at better than DSL speeds. Like some other gateways, Ruckus's new device doesn't have to be placed near a window to work, the company says.

The issue of in-home connectivity has become a key challenge for metro WiFi operators. Especially in urban environments, the broadband signal can be obstructed by things like trees, buildings, and the walls of homes. (See Top Ten Movers & Shakers in Telecom.)

“People typically use laptops in WiFi networks, but if you are in your home it has been a problem," says Ruckus Wireless marketing director David Callisch. "Providers are looking for a means of getting people on their networks.”

The new MetroFlex borrows some tricks from the company’s core product, the MediaFlex router, which uses a special horizontal antenna to send voice, video, and data around the home wirelessly. (See Ruckus Touts Wins.)

MetroFlex, which attaches to home computers using an Ethernet port, uses a similar horizontal antenna, but adds a new vertical one. The product also features a larger amplifier to increase sensitivity, and some new software algorithms to sniff out the strongest WiFi signal available. (See Video Through the Air .)

WiFi broadband signals emanate from outdoor-mounted nodes made by companies like Tropos Networks Inc. They are typically placed about 1,000 feet apart. Signal from the nodes is easily picked up by laptops and other portable devices, but home PCs are another story. Ruckus says it built the MetroFlex gateway to interoperate easily with Tropos equipment. (See Tropos Unveils Metro WiFi Spec.)

The company says the product is already being used by subscribers of several metro WiFi networks in the U.S. Perhaps the best-known of these is the Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) municipal WiFi network in Mountain View, Calif. Callisch says the Ruckus gateway can maintain constant connectivity “in excess of a meg or two” in Mountain View homes, depending on node traffic. (See Google, EarthLink Team for SF WiFi.)

Phil Belanger, managing director of the wireless broadband consulting firm Novarum, says the Ruckus device, if widely used, could strengthen the metro WiFi business case. This is because the Ruckus gateway effectively reaches out from inside homes to bring the wireless broadband signal to computers that would otherwise go unserved. “From the service provider point of view, it gives them a larger perceived coverage area,” Belanger says. (See Philly City Council OKs WiFi Plan.)

Callisch says WiFi operators are determined to work out logistical problems, like in-home connectivity in order to achieve a larger goal: replacing DSL. “Effectively what’s going on is, people like EarthLink who don’t own physical facilities want to use WiFi to compete with wireline [telco and cable] broadband services,” he says.

The Ruckus MetroFlex costs $129.

Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Ruckus has raised approximately $14 million in two rounds of venture financing from investors including Sequoia Capital , Sutter Hill Ventures , and Investor AB.

— Mark Sullivan, Reporter, Light Reading

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