Meru Networks has added a wireless backbone to its enterprise Wi-Fi switch system, effectively replacing the wire in the connection from the switch to the access point.

Meru's wireless system already differs from most others by using a "blanket" in which every access point uses the same 802.11a and b/g Wi-Fi channels. This announcement, made at Interop this week, includes new versions of the company's access points, switches and software, to include a "bonding" option that combines Wi-Fi channels for a higher-capacity backbone.

"Until now, the edge had to be wireless," said Ihab Abu-Hakima, Meru’s president. "We've taken away the wires that go to the access points."

The bonded Wi-Fi option, called AirChannel, is similar to EtherChannel, which bonded multiple Fast Ethernet links to create higher capacity connections before Gigabit Ethernet became widely available. "It's analogous to switched ethernet on wires, but all done by wireless link," said Nate Walker, director of product management at Meru. "More and more enterprises have shifted their view of Wi-Fi from a network of convenience to their primary network."

This system is different from a mesh architecture, although both have backhaul on wireless, said Walker: "Our network is a full duplex operation. Our patented technology enalbes it to transmit and recieve simultaneously," he said. "It also offers quality of service on the backbone link." The Meru network allows hierarchical links managed by the controller, and uses different channels for the backhaul, he said.

The network can reserve specific channels for the backbone, said Walker - an arrangement made possible by Meru's blanket architecture, where all access points use the same channels. "If the clients are on 802.11g, we can use the 802.11a channels for the backbone," he said. "Or we can can place all the data clients on one 802.11g channel and use the other channels for voice, and the a channels for the backbone."

When 802.11n arrives, giving more capacity, the system will be compatible with it, he said: "AirChannel is the start of a migration path to 802.11n."