On Monday, Meru Networks announced virtual ports, a technology designed to make Wi-Fi networks as reliable as wired Ethernet. IDG News Service interviewed the CEO of Meru, Ihab Abu-Hakima, on a visit to London.
Meru's product controls wireless access points centrally, to support wireless LAN access throughout a building, but the company has championed a different approach from rivals Aruba, Cisco and Trapeze (now owned by Belden). Its virtual cell architecture puts all the access points on the same channel, and holds all the BSSIDs (Wi-Fi's equivalent of a MAC address) centrally. The company has now added the ability to partition the network so each client gets the equivalent of a wired network port.
Abu-Hakima formerly worked at Western Multiplex, a wireless company bought by Proxim, where he became a senior vice president. He joined Meru in 2004, just as the wireless startup was beginning to deliver products.
What is the story behind the Meru architecture?
The first centralized wireless LAN controllers dealt with the problem of managing and securing access points. Meru said that is not enough. Sooner or later, most enterprises will be running on wireless, and that means tens of thousands of devices, with users wanting an interactive experience including real-time applications such as voice.
The 802.11 specification was designed for standalone access points, providing best-efforts communications. When two access points are put together, it produces co-channel interference.
Legacy Wi-Fi controllers solved this by putting each access point on a different channel. Meru's founders came out of the cellular space, and that seems inefficient to them, as the most precious resource is spectrum.
In legacy Wi-Fi, the client has control of its connection to access points, but in cell-phone networks, the infrastructure has control. All the base stations are on the same channel and managed centrally. It has to be that way, to deliver quality of service and mobility for every user.
What does this do for users?
It completely changes the rules in wireless networking. With legacy wireless LAN equipment, network staff have had to do wireless site surveys, and monitor and adjust power levels and channels of wireless LAN equipment. With virtual cells and virtual ports, It gets those resources back and can apply them to other opportunities.