A couple of weeks ago, Ruckus Wireless demonstrated how easily and reliably it can transmit multiple high-definition (HD) channels using new Wi-Fi technology.
The demo so impressed a hall-full of cable’s wonkiest at the CableLabs Winter Conference that they voted the Ruckus ZoneFlex Smart Wireless LAN System the best new product idea most likely to succeed (story here). Too bad cable won’t be able to use it for distributing video in subscribers’ homes.
On the other hand, MSOs have an option to use the Ruckus gear in a truly unique way that gets cable into mobile telephony through a back door.
The ZoneFlex is based on an unratified new version of Wi-Fi, 802.11n, which has a multiple input/multiple output (MIMO) structure that supports multiple antennas. This version of the 802.11 standard would increase data rates to 248 Mbps (the common 802.11g version offers 11 Mbps) and would nearly double Wi-Fi range to about 820 feet, from about 450 feet.
Ruckus put the ZoneFlex through its paces at the CableLabs Winter Conference, held in Colorado Springs, Colo. The company fed in three separate MPEG-2 HD streams – all at 20 Mbps – and brought in yet another video stream via a Slingbox, all while providing Internet access for the approximately 300 people in the exhibition room. CableLabs bars riff-raff from its winter conferences, so us journalist-type persons didn’t get to witness the demo, but just the description is exciting.
Comcast SVP Mark Coblitz explained that customer complaints are frequently about home networks, which was why the flawless operation of the Ruckus system was particularly impressive. The Ruckus system, he explained, looks like it could work consistently, avoiding all the problems commonly associated with in-home Wi-Fi.
The Ruckus system also gives the network operator complete visibility into the home, allowing the operator to diagnose problems, or even control applications.
So you can see why the cable guys would think the Ruckus gear would be way cool for distributing video and other services throughout subscribers’ homes.
A common household implementation would consist of a Ruckus unit at or near the terminus of the broadband wire running into the house, and another located near the set-top box (STB). A Ruckus home network system can then route IP video reliably around subscribers’ homes.
Wait . . . what? Did Ruckus say “IP video”?
And MSOs don’t do IPTV?
No, they don’t. Not most of them, anyway. Ooooh, quel dommage.
Ruckus doesn’t even have an RF coaxial cable interface.
But wait! It’ll work dandy with cable data and VoIP!
But wait again! There might be a way to make lemonade out of them there lemons.
Okay, so what if MSOs start seeding their subscribers’ homes with these Ruckus wireless access points anyway, for the VoIP and the data, plus the visibility and control of the home network the Ruckus stuff affords? And what if those Ruckus access points can have multiple service set identifiers (SSIDs), as they do, at least one of which is completely inaccessible – and invisible – to the subscriber?
An MSO that did that would just happen to be building an overlay network of Wi-Fi hotspots.
“You could light up a city with Wi-Fi access essentially for free,” explained Ruckus product manager Joel Brand. “You’d have fantastic Wi-Fi coverage for dual-mode phones.”
The operator might have to install a few extra Wi-Fi base stations outside, but far, far fewer than today’s municipal Wi-Fi suppliers have to install.
The MSO chooses a name for that third or fourth SSID and programs dual-mode phones to look for it. An MSO that did that would automatically become a significant partner for a cellular company – T-Mobile, Sprint, Alltel, whoever.
That is certainly not the most direct way into mobile telephony, but it has a certain kill-two-birds-with-one-stone thing going for it. And with Sprint acting so flaky and there being such a clear need for a mobile wireless play, the idea sure is intriguing, isn’t it?