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Can You Hear Me Now?

Beamforming: The Best WiFi You’ve Never Seen
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According to Ruckus, interference rejection can have an even more profound impact on performance than the target beam boosting. Imagine sitting in a crowded, noisy restaurant, and you’re trying to have a conversation with the person across the table. Everyone, including your partner, is talking at the same volume, and you’re having a very hard time hearing what the other person is saying. Seeing your listening problem, your partner talks a bit louder (boosting the signal a few dB), and this helps but nowhere near as much as when you cup your hands behind your ears to only let the “beam” of the other person’s voice reach you while simultaneously muting a lot of that interfering background chatter.

With BeamFlex, software can steer access point beams dynamically, selecting the best path for each packet. The system will also automatically assemble a list of the 10 to 20 most commonly used antenna patterns. This functions a bit like the cache on a processor, keeping oft-needed data very close to the execution pipeline so it can be accessed more quickly. Ruckus has spent five years developing BeamFlex into its current form and fine-tuning the algorithms that help comprise its special sauce. Yes, BeamFlex is proprietary in that it doesn’t adhere to IEEE 802.11n specs, but it’s plainly interoperable with any standard WiFi client, and I think, if proven superior over competing approaches, Ruckus’s approach to on-antenna beamforming could prove revolutionary in inspiring the next wave of wireless networking designs. We’ll see in the following pages how well BeamFlex holds up against the competition, particularly against Cisco’s chip-based beamforming option.

It's strange to say, but this may not be the first time you’ve run across BeamFlex. One of the very few times Ruckus ever poked its head into the mainstream press came in a roundup by Tom’s Hardware sister site, Tom’s Guide. This first-gen product had six antennas, each with about 60 degrees of coverage, arranged in a hexagonal design. You can still find this hexagonal layout in the company’s 7811 access point, which managing editor Chris Angelini discusses shortly.

Our main testing, though, focuses on the Ruckus ZoneFlex 7962 access point. This is the enterprise version of the same BeamFlex technology, here upgraded to 19 antenna elements—10 horizontally polarized and 9 vertically polarized. Interestingly, though, according to Ruckus, the 7811 should perform very similarly to the 7962 when deployed in a single-story environment when only a few clients are present.

By now, you’re probably wondering why, if beamforming is so amazing, Ruckus has kept such a low profile. The company says it’s because the retail market sucks. In early 2005, Ruckus (then called Video 54) teamed up with Netgear to produce the seven-antenna RangeMax 824 router, which became hugely successful. But retail margins are precariously thin after considering support and marketing costs, and for whatever reason the love affair soured, culminating in 2008 with Ruckus suing Netgear for patent infringement over the third version of the 824. For the time being, Ruckus is choosing to pursue the enterprise and service provider markets, although it still keeps one or two etailers in the loop for consumers like us who want to get in on the goodness.

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  • 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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