WiFi-devices maker wants in on last-mile bridges


  • Technology
  • Monday, 19 Jul 2010

PETALING JAYA: Nothing would please WiFi products manufacturer Ruckus Wireless Inc more than to help provide last-mile access to underserved areas in the region.

Its president and chief executive officer, Selina Lo, said South-East Asia is a huge market opportunity for Ruckus to provide last-mile wireless broadband access.

“(Rival) broadband technologies like WiMAX promise the same thing but this has not been fulfilled due to a lack of devices,” she told In.Tech.

In comparison, Lo said, 95% of the devices now are WiFi-ready and the number is growing.

She said Ruckus wants this for two reasons — to expand its market share and to feel good that it has done its bit to narrow the “digital divide,” that gap between the technology haves and have-nots.

“Being able to help bring broadband to the have-nots is something Ruckus would find very satisfying,” she said.

Last mile refers to the final leg of delivering Internet connectivity from an Internet service provider (ISP) to the customer’s premises.

Ruckus has smart antenna and SmartMesh features in its ZoneFlex brand of broadband access-point equipment. Lo claims the smart antenna technology’s ability to resist interference enables the access points to provide more reliable WiFi coverage.

Each element in the smart antenna is controlled by software, which is able to push WiFi signals out in different directions and different orientations. Ruckus calls this technology BeamFlex. “In other words, interference from other mobile devices can be reduced,” Lo said.

Pathfinder

Meanwhile, its SmartMesh network-mesh technology is claimed to be a viable option to delivering broadband to places where it is not feasible to lay down cables.

SmartMesh is intelligent enough to automatically select the fastest path for signals to reach the clients. “Our access points constantly look for paths to reach a connection and if there is any interference, it automatically looks for a new path,” Lo said.

This technology, she said, was built into Ruckus’ access points to adapt them to the fickle outdoor environment.

According to her, Ruckus technology is already being employed by several local partners in Malaysia. It is working with an ISP, Jaring Communications Sdn Bhd, which is its systems integrator partner to deliver broadband access to institutes of higher learning.

It is also working with another ISP, Wi-Net Telecoms Sdn Bhd, which uses its access points to bridge the last mile in Langkawi, Penang and Taiping.

Lo said Ruckus’ partners are invaluable in helping the company achieve its goal of providing broadband access where the service is scarce.

“As a small company, we are not able to lobby enough support ourselves, but our local partners become an extension of us and can garner support for us to achieve our goals,” she said.

She said Ruckus has tried approaching Tier-1 service providers but these moves have yet to bear fruit.

“Tier-1 providers prefer to wait and see (when it comes to technology), which is why we tend to work with the smaller providers first. They will prove our technology is viable and hopefully Tier-1 providers will follow,” she said.

Easing 3G traffic

Ruckus would also like to work with Tier-1 service providers to help the ease congestion in their 3G (third-generation) cellular network using WiFi.

Known as “3G offload,” Lo said Malaysia will require this very soon following the rise in the use of smartphones and mobile applications.

“Such devices are 3G and WiFi enabled so providers are looking at ways to offload 3G traffic by also providing their own brand of WiFi,” she said.

But many smartphone users aren’t using it more frequently because they face the hassle of flip-flopping between 3G and WiFi networks, and keying in a password each time. “We’re working with some operators to make this process less of a hassle,” Lo said.

AT&T adopted this solution to deal with its 3G network congestion in the United States, she said.

Also, she said, the service provider worked out deals with retail outlets to provide AT&T’s brand of WiFi so that their customers could use the hotspots for free.

“I believe carriers everywhere will start to do the same,” she added.

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