Meru: Don’t Wait for 802.11e

Meru: Don’t Wait for 802.11e

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Written By Eric Sandler

By Eric Griffith

October 07, 2003

The latest startup wireless LAN infrastructure supplier says that the Quality of Service for voice coming (someday) in the 802.11e standard won’t be enough for enterprises. Little surprise, it feels its hardware will do the job.

When the topic of video or audio traveling over a wireless LAN comes up — particularly voice traffic, as in any Voice over IP (VoIP) solution for the WLAN — you’ll almost always see the obligatory mention of 802.11e. This standard, currently undergoing revisions by the IEEE for approval sometime in 2004, holds the promise of Quality of Service (QoS) wherein the network will know to give priority to the voice, audio, and video signals on a Wi-Fi network.

Startup Meru Networks of Sunnyvale, Calif., says 802.11e will work just fine … for small businesses and homes. But, according to the company’s co-founder, chairman and CEO Ujjal Kohli, “802.11e won’t scale for the enterprise.”

Meru, of course, has the solution. Next week the company will make available its own WLAN system, consisting of an access point (around $500 each), a controller gateway –Meru doesn’t call it a switch — that will cost around $8000, and the Meru System Director embedded software. Pricing is not yet finalized.

The company is betting the success of its system on VoIP traffic. Kohli says the return on investment for voice on top of data is stronger, a position he says is bolstered by companies like Cisco getting into the voice over WLAN (VoWLAN) market.

Meru claims its access points can handle up to 100 users — five times more than a typical access point — and five times more VoWLAN calls per access point (about 25 to 30 users).

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The voice traffic also benefits from “no loss” hand-off. Meru’s access points all use the same BSSID so they appear to be one giant “virtual AP” to all clients on the network. This means roaming from subnet to subnet means no loss in connectivity and no need to re-associate with the network. This is similar to what AirFlow Networks is doing with its AirServer/AirSwitch line. AirFlow also claims the ability to run a high number of data users per access point (around 50).

Of course, the Meru system will also include “centralized security, management and easy deployment,” says Kohli. “These things are like brakes in a car. They’re not a reason to buy, they’re a must have.”

Aaron Vance, industry analyst at Synergy Research Group says that even conservatively Meru’s numbers are impressive if the final products can deliver what they claim.

“Realistically, you probably don’t want 20 users per standard access point, you want 10. But the five times capacity [on Meru’s access point] is still a very significant 50 users,” says Vance.

Meru’s claims of superiority over 802.11e, however, should probably be “taken with a grain of salt,” says Vance. Meru’s solution is still proprietary, while 11e will be an industry-wide standard and is far from finalized. Also proprietary for Meru is the no-loss hand-off scheme, while solutions like Mobile IP already exist as de facto standards for the industry to help with network hand-off.

Kohli says the System Director software is embedded in the Meru hardware, but that in the future the company could release add-on modules, such as location-awareness. The system does not require any client software on laptops or PDAs. But for Meru, the voice traffic is the selling point.

“When you show up with a wireless LAN like this, and you say it’s voice ready, people get excited,” says Kohli.

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