Ruckus Wireless, a developer of fast home Wi-Fi access points for telcos, has shifted its attention to small businesses and launched a cheap, simple-to-use wireless LAN that aims to undercut the likes of Trapeze and Aruba.

"WLAN switch vendors have tried to downsize for the SMB market, but have never succeeded," said David Callisch, Ruckus' director of marketing. "There is no real WLAN solution for the middle market." Many vendors have tried to create branch Wi-Fi products for years - Techworld rounded up available offerings in 2004 - but big switches are technological overkill, and attempts to make them smaller have produced boxes so expensive that only big companies can afford to get them, for their branch offices, said Callisch.

The ZoneFlex system, available in July, starts at around £1200 for five ZoneFlex 2925 access points and a ZoneDirector controller, which should be enough for around fifty users. It uses an enterprise version of Ruckus' standard access points, which use 802.11g Wi-Fi souped up with Ruckus' six-antenna BeamFlex technology, and already in use for home Wi-Fi systems that Ruckus launched in 2005 for service providers.

The access points use the LWAPP protocol to connect to the controller, and have a "split MAC" so not all traffic has to go through the controller. The controller can be set up by clicking through five screens, said Callisch. Security is automated, and an authentication database is included which can also be used in connection with Radius or Active Directory if users have that. The controller also includes a system to automate the set-up of security keys for the wireless LAN, giving each user a different key tied to their MAC, making it easy to allow contract workers, and remove privileges without impacting other users.

As well as the standard access points, Ruckus is also launching the ZoneFlex 2942, which will have an upgrade of the existing smart antenna to support more beams, and to allow mesh deployments. Each 2942 AP should support 20 concurrent VoIP calls and 50 data clients, said Callisch.

Despite its antenna smarts, Ruckus is not yet supporting the draft 802.11n specification - until a further generation of APs due in the third quarter of this year. The delay is in order to keep costs down, and make the most of the fact that Ruckus' antenna already provides many of the benefits of 802.11n in range and throughput.

However, one aspect of the system that will get a lot of scrutiny is the fact that it relies on a single radio per access point, with no activity in the 5GHz spectrum. This means that the mesh has to be set up on a "time-division" basis, with a node taking it in turns to serve clients and backhaul.

Callisch says the performance - and the price - will bear out Ruckus' decision to launch the system as it is. BeamFlex has been optimised for beaming video signals round a house, from a single access point, but the same features can be re-deployed in a business environment, where Callisch expects resellers to bundle in Wi-Fi capable phones. "It turns out to be easier to configure a consumer device to small businesses, than to take an enterprise system and cut it down," said Callisch.

Another question is why Ruckus has returned to the enterprise, when it claims to be making strides in the service provider sector, where the volumes - and therefore potential returns - are far larger. Callisch explains that there's a big lag in sales to service providers, which gave them time to address a different market: "We are depending on service providers to build big deals, so we have time to expand into new markets. We don't want to be an AP company."

It is interesting to see Ruckus addressing a market that Aruba and others have tried at, as Aruba's president, Dominic Orr is also chairman of the board at Ruckus. The two companies have announced a partnership before, to produce technology that might in fact have looked a lot like what Ruckus is delivering here.