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Test Environment

Beamforming: The Best WiFi You’ve Never Seen
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Knowing that beamforming should give 2x to 4x the signal distance of conventional 802.11n, I knew we needed a test environment bigger than a regular house could provide. Since I don’t have access to any mansions, I went with the next-best thing: the 7,000-square foot headquarters office of Structured Communications in Clackamas, Oregon. This office takes up most of the 11,000-square foot top floor of its building. Special thanks go out to Structured for letting Tom’s Hardware invade their space for two days of setup and testing.

I tested in five locations, seeking to get a decent mix of scenarios. For reference, here’s the office floor plan with each of the five locations marked. The numbers noted next to locations 2, 3, 4, and 5 are the approximate distances in feet from these test sites back to location 1, where the access point sat.

 

Test Location 1. This is home base, where we set up our small mountain of equipment. No, not everything got used—we had some backup gear, just in case. In some of the pictures shown previously, I stacked the access point on top of the controller for convenience. During actual testing, these were kept separate to reduce interference, as you can see in this image of our Cisco setup. When testing in this location, the client was about two to three feet from the AP—essentially point-blank range.

Test Location 2. This is pretty much a straight shot down an aisle and across the office floor from location 1. You can see the meeting chairs in location one way off in the distance.

In retrospect, I should have maintained line of sight between the client and access point for this test. Instead, the access point is tucked just around the right corner of the doorway. So rather than line of sight, I instead have the straight path moving through a long wall line. Who ever gets straight line of sight on indoors wireless, anyway? And if you’re curious, yes, that’s me looking so out of place doing Zap testing that two people had to stop and stare.

Test Location 3. This spot made sense, as it was located straight across the building and entailed pushing the signal straight through several walls—no way to bounce your way out of this one. As you can see, the ThinkPad is only detecting four nearby access points in this fairly quiet location. On other areas around the floor, I picked up over a dozen.

Test Location 4. Laterally, this was our longest and most isolated location, sealed off within another meeting room at the far end of the office. In the world of indoor WiFi, reaching through 100 feet of crowded, highly-sectioned space is insane. You’d normally want at least one more access point in operation here. In fact, Ruckus told us that four of the 7962s would be advisable...compared to 10 or more conventional access points. So, if we could get decent performance at this range, it would be a near-miracle.

Test Location 5. As you walk out the door of Structured’s office, there’s an open area largely filled by a glass-walled chasm that runs the height of the building. In order to test signal reach in three dimensions instead of the usual two, I set up shop on a table at ground level, down two floors. To determine the 95-foot signal distance, I had to use the Pythagorean Theorem, something I vowed in eighth grade Geometry class would never happen during my post-school lifetime. Never say never.

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Top Comments
  • 10 Hide
    antiacid , August 17, 2009 1:13 PM
    awesome article! Thanks for exposing us to this great technology :) 
Other Comments
  • 2 Hide
    chinesemafia69 , August 17, 2009 8:16 AM
    wow....this owns

  • -6 Hide
    bucifer , August 17, 2009 8:42 AM
    This article started up pretty good with lots of technical data and the beamforming technology in theory but after that the goodness stopped.

    1.You cannot compare two products by testing them with a in-house developed software. It's like testing ATI vs nVIDIA with nvidia made benchmark.
    2.If you do something get it done, don't just go with half measures. I don't care if you didn't have time. You should have planned this from the beginning. The tests are incomplete, and the article is filled with crap of Rukus and Cisco.
  • -5 Hide
    Mr_Man , August 17, 2009 12:44 PM
    In defense of your wife, you didn't HAVE to use that particular channel to view all the "detail".
  • 2 Hide
    Anonymous , August 17, 2009 12:58 PM
    @Mr_Man: With a name like yours, I'd think that you'd sympathize with Chris a bit more :p  Unless (Mr_Man == I likes men) :D 
  • 10 Hide
    antiacid , August 17, 2009 1:13 PM
    awesome article! Thanks for exposing us to this great technology :) 
  • -4 Hide
    Pei-chen , August 17, 2009 1:17 PM
    Both Tyra and Heidi have personal issues and would be pretty difficult friend/mate.

    The network idea sounds better. I couldn’t get my 10 feet g network to transmit a tenth as much as my wired network without it dropping.
  • 3 Hide
    zak_mckraken , August 17, 2009 2:23 PM
    There's one question that I think was not covered by the article. Can a beamformaing AP can sustain the above numbers on two different clients? Let's say we take the UDP test at 5 GHz. The result shows 7.3 Mb/s. If we had two clients at opposite sides of the AP doing the same test, would we have 7.3 Mb/s for each test or would the bandwidth be sliced in 2?

    The numbers so far are astonishing, but are they realistic in a multi-client environnement? That's something I'd like to know!
  • -1 Hide
    jerther , August 17, 2009 2:28 PM
    There is so much invisible to understand in wireless technology!
  • -6 Hide
    ebattleon , August 17, 2009 3:01 PM
    You can of course get the same effect by having better antenna on both ends of the network. This would increase gain which would improve signal to noise ratio, which would improve data flow speeds. You would also get the same effect by boost in the power but that could get you in trouble with the law.

  • 1 Hide
    Anonymous , August 17, 2009 3:04 PM
    I'm not an expert on beamforming, but I'm surprised that it is useful at these frequencies. After all, the wavelength at 2.4 GHz is ~12 cm (~5 inches). That means that the pockets of constructive interference (the beam) are very small. Moving the receiver a few inches should make a big difference.

    Are you sure the differences you are seeing aren't simply due to higher power output? Couldn't the same improvements be obtained with a directional antenna like a Yagi?
  • 1 Hide
    Rancifer7 , August 17, 2009 4:00 PM
    So far quite an interesting technology. Its nice to know that at someone in the wireless world is striving to make something innovative!

    When all the major players sell items that look almost the same, act similarly, and perform almost the same, there is something wrong with the industry.
  • 1 Hide
    chaohsiangchen , August 17, 2009 4:13 PM
    Beam forming technology have been for a long time, but they are mostly used in military equipments. Phased Array radars, Synthetic Aperture Radar, Inverse Synthetic Aperture Radar, Plane Array Antenna and antenna for data link. Most consumer products still use Yagi or disk antenna. Cost is a major issue in the application. Military don't care that much about the cost.
  • 0 Hide
    scotty123 , August 17, 2009 4:23 PM
    sounds nice - but i won't get excited until it's available at Best Buy!

    One niggling concern, I felt reasonably safe with the unfocused cloud of RF surrounding me wherever I go, but I am not so sure about the tightly focused beam that the Ruckus provides. What happens to the poor joe who sits directly in the path of such a beam for 8 hours a day?
  • 1 Hide
    williamvw , August 17, 2009 4:39 PM
    Mr_ManIn defense of your wife, you didn't HAVE to use that particular channel to view all the "detail".

    LOL! True enough. It honestly was a reference file I had on hand for such testing situations. Angelini obviously showed a bit more wisdom in his choice of in-house test content.
  • -1 Hide
    williamvw , August 17, 2009 4:44 PM
    scotty123sounds nice - but i won't get excited until it's available at Best Buy! One niggling concern, I felt reasonably safe with the unfocused cloud of RF surrounding me wherever I go, but I am not so sure about the tightly focused beam that the Ruckus provides. What happens to the poor joe who sits directly in the path of such a beam for 8 hours a day?

    My absolutely unqualified opinion is "probably nothing." While the conditions are somewhat different, you might want to read a Tech Myths column segment I did over on Tom's Guide that touches on this issue. http://www.tomsguide.com/us/decibels-noise-canceling,review-1338-10.html
  • 2 Hide
    williamvw , August 17, 2009 5:17 PM
    zak_mckrakenThere's one question that I think was not covered by the article. Can a beamformaing AP can sustain the above numbers on two different clients? Let's say we take the UDP test at 5 GHz. The result shows 7.3 Mb/s. If we had two clients at opposite sides of the AP doing the same test, would we have 7.3 Mb/s for each test or would the bandwidth be sliced in 2?The numbers so far are astonishing, but are they realistic in a multi-client environnement? That's something I'd like to know!

    Excellent question, and one I hope to dive into in a later article. For now, I can only give you the anecdote on my opening page, running the same HD stream to two clients. Ruckus states that BeamFlex can sustain a 50 Mbps minimum per access point. Do the math on your client streams accordingly, I suppose.
  • -1 Hide
    bounty , August 17, 2009 5:24 PM
    williamvwLOL! True enough. It honestly was a reference file I had on hand for such testing situations. Angelini obviously showed a bit more wisdom in his choice of in-house test content.


    Honestly honey, it's just a reference file, I swear it's not porn. I challenge you to find HD streaming content from the internet that highlights the subtle nuance of flesh tones.
  • 2 Hide
    williamvw , August 17, 2009 5:28 PM
    bountyHonestly honey, it's just a reference file, I swear it's not porn. I challenge you to find HD streaming content from the internet that highlights the subtle nuance of flesh tones.

    Hey, the VS catalog mails to her, not me. I was merely trying to be a good husband and participate in her interests. ;-) ANYWAY. Back to beamforming, shall we?
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