Two deals that Wi-Fi system vendor Ruckus Wireless will announce at the CTIA Wireless show this week reflect service providers' growing interest in the unlicensed wireless technology.
This week, Ruckus will announce both a global resale agreement with carrier equipment maker Nokia Siemens Networks and a deal to provide access points to Time Warner Cable, which will use them to provide mobile extensions of its home broadband, phone and TV service. The company also plans to release two new Wi-Fi access points for enterprises and service providers next week.
For mobile carriers, Wi-Fi is an increasingly important supplement to cellular networks in high-demand areas because it uses unlicensed frequencies instead of the carriers' own precious spectrum. Some cable operators also are deploying Wi-Fi as an easier and less expensive way to add a mobile component to their offerings. Emerging standards will make it easier for subscribers to roam onto and between Wi-Fi networks, and access points are even being integrated into cellular base stations.
Under an agreement to be announced Wednesday, NSN is already offering Ruckus's entire line of Wi-Fi gear, under the Ruckus brand, to service providers around the world. The products are delivered through the Nokia Siemens Networks Consulting and Systems Integration business unit, which also is providing deployment, management and maintenance services for the Wi-Fi products. The partnership with Ruckus is not exclusive.
NSN has struggled against bigger rivals, including Ericsson, Alcatel-Lucent and Huawei Technologies, but is one of just a handful of large-scale, international mobile infrastructure vendors. Already this year, Ericsson has acquired Wi-Fi specialist BelAir Networks and Alcatel-Lucent has announced it will integrate Wi-Fi into its new LightRadio cellular architecture.
The Ruckus gear will complement NSN's Flexi Zone small-cell lineup. Among the products NSN will be selling is the Ruckus SmartCell Gateway 200, a server that can manage heterogeneous networks of both Wi-Fi access points and small cellular base stations. The Ruckus portfolio, which includes multiple-antenna access points that can be equipped with internal small cells, has the capability to provide even deeper integration of Wi-Fi and cellular.
Ruckus supplies indoor and outdoor Wi-Fi gear to several service providers around the world, and on Tuesday it is set to announce an agreement with Time Warner Cable, which has more than 14 million customers across the U.S. Time Warner plans to use Ruckus gear in indoor public venues such as stadiums and in some outdoor areas, according to Ruckus. In areas where cable lines are strung on poles, cable companies have a built-in infrastructure of mounting assets and high-capacity wired backhaul for setting up Wi-Fi networks. The two companies' deal is not exclusive.
At CTIA, Ruckus will also unveil two IEEE 802.11n access points, one designed for high capacity and the other aimed at a low price for enterprise-class Wi-Fi, listing at $349.
The high-end ZoneFlex 7982 uses three spatial streams of data and several other technologies to deliver high capacity for densely packed environments such as airports, stadiums, hotels and hotspots. It uses two different types of beamforming, which aims signals in the direction of a client using the network. Ruckus claims the 7982 can perform as much as four times faster than other three-stream access points.
One distinctive feature of the unit is that it can send and receive signals at different angles, adapting to whether a client device is being held vertically or horizontally. For example, if a user lifts a phone that's sitting on a table and holds it upright, the 7982 access point will adjust which elements of its complex antenna are transmitting in order to better communicate with the device, according to Ruckus.
A device's orientation actually can affect how well it communicates with a network, according to Farpoint Group analyst Craig Mathias. There are already techniques that use this effect, called polarization, with satellites and other types of radios, he said. Most Wi-Fi radios can only transmit in one orientation, which could restrict performance in some situations, according to Mathias. However, there are so many factors that influence indoor Wi-Fi signals, such as walls and other obstacles, that it's hard to say how much could be gained by addressing polarization in any given situation, he said.
The ZoneFlex 7321 uses just two spatial streams and is intended for branch offices, small businesses and deployments in developing countries. Beamforming and other techniques give it a performance edge over other low-end access points, according to Ruckus.
The ZoneFlex 7982 has a list price of $1,099. Both new access points will be available immediately.