Ruckus Wireless has added an enterprise-scale controller to its 802.11n wireless LAN and delivered mesh - which it claims can outperform other vendors' equipment, while only using the 2.4GHz Wi-Fi spectrum.

The ZoneDirector 3000 can control up to 250 of Ruckus' ZoneFlex access points, including the 7942 802.11n AP, which was announced last month, but is still as easy-to-deploy as the small-business systems it has delivered before, said Scott Reeves, technical director EMEA at Ruckus: "We don't think a large scale WLAN needs to be costly and cumbersome - we've kept our ease of use concepts and built a much more scalable platform."

Reeves also went into detail on the 802.11n mesh, which Ruckus promised last month - including the surprising claim that it can do an indoor enterprise wireless mesh more easily and cheaply than competitors, without using the new 5GHz band where most 802.11n deployments are expected to be.

"Wireless meshing has really gone nowhere in the enterprise, because of performance and reliability issues," said Reeves, "and our competitors say it can't be done in 2.4GHz."

802.11n uses channel bonding to create 40MHz wide channels, but mesh needs at least two channels, for access and backhaul, and in the 2.4GHz band two 40MHz 802.11n channels will inevitably overlap, explained Reeves.

Other vendors use the 5GHz channel for a mesh backhaul, adding to the expense, and causing coverage issues (5GHz does not penetrate through walls so well as 2.4GHz), said Reeves. Ruckus' answer is to use its smart antenna system to form precise directional beams for the backhaul, so that the same spectrum can be used twice, explained Reeves: "We use directional beam forming, so we can use channels 1 and 6 for the mesh backhaul, and channels 6 and 13 for the client connection."

"Our system is half the cost, half the installation time and gives three times the performance of a traditional 802.11g controller-based WLAN with wired APs," he said, basing his comparisons on a Cisco 802.11g system. The use of beam forming means the mesh backhaul paths can be made long, so there are fewer hops, and less latency in the system than other meshes: "There is no better application for directional antennas than wireless backhaul trunking."

Although the 802.11n standard is based on multipath and beam forming, it does not specify intelligent antennas, and operates independently of the actual antennas built into the system. Ruckus is therefore able to use standard 802.11n silicon from Atheros, and attach its BeamFlex intelligent antenna system - "to the Atheros chipset it just looks like a normal antenna system giving exceptional performance, with 4000 possible directional beams" explained Reeves. "Interference is the thing that causes problems and we reject it to ensure spatial multiplexing. It's like noise-cancelling earphones for the access point."

The access point can be driven by conventional power over Ethernet, because 2.4GHz radios need less electrical power than 5GHz ones, so a two-radio 2.4GHz AP comes under the IEEE 802.3af power specification, unlike dual-band systems from other vendors, said Reeves.

With mesh as a free extra on the Ruckus system, Reeves believes that users will deploy it gradually, using it first in areas where they can't cable, and then in more places, once it has proven its reliability.