The trend in next generation mobile networks is network functions virtualisation (NFV) and software defined networks (SDN) and that suits Meru Networks down to the ground.
‘NFV and SDN are perfectly aligned with the way Meru went into the Wi-Fi business from the start,’ says Dr Bami Bastani, president and CEO of Meru. ‘We are now in the process of mapping our development road map into these network trends.’
It’s clearly a serendipitous time for Meru as Sarosh Vesuna, VP & GM Education and Healthcare BU at Meru, explains: ‘We did VLANs from the beginning, so what we did with our virtualised network is an early version of SDN.’
Meru decided to ensure the network controls the handover of the device or client connection from one access point (AP) to another, rather than the device deciding. This is key element of Meru’s offering and a major difference to its rivals.
‘When the device decides how to roam, this is based on the algorithm in the device and all devices have different algorithms written by different engineers,’ explains Vesuna. ‘But if every device has its own algorithm and is trying to connect to the network at the same time in a crowded environment, it’s a guarantee that many will drop their connections. This is because the device makes the decision when to roam and not the network.’
If virtualisation is one major trend in networks right now, dealing with capacity issues is a second issue in both Wi-Fi and cellular networks. Meru’s single-channel approach creates seamless handovers, but it also has another trick up its sleeve in the shape of channel layering.
Vesuna explains: ‘Our single channel can be layered to deliver up to three times the capacity. It’s like vehicle traffic. If you add a second road above the first you not only increase capacity, but you can also differentiate the traffic by routing trucks and buses on one layer and cars on the other.’
Using three channel layering, Meru’s central software enables organisations to physically separate applications at the radio frequency layer and define what class of service it is offering. ‘We never called it SDN when we developed it, but that is what it has become,’ says Vesuna.
Meru’s 802.11ac product
The latest 802.11ac Wi-Fi standard also suits Meru. 80211ac is particularly advantageous for Meru, thanks to its unique single-channel architecture. This is because the early 802.11b/g standards in the 2.4GHz spectrum band had very few channels: hence, Meru’s decision to virtualise the channels into one to maximise channel efficiency.
When 802.11n Wi-Fi arrived it brought much more spectrum and many more channels. ‘Our one channel and layering technology message got a bit lost then, because there were plenty of channels available,’ says Bastani.
However, 802.11ac, which operates only in the 5GHz band, provides just two 80MHz wide channels in 11ac Wave 1 technology. Meru says most Wi-Fi vendors need a minimum of three non-overlapping channels to provide enterprise wide coverage to avoid interference and degradation of service.
This means they can only rarely exploit the full benefits of 802.11ac by using 80MHz wide channels. Wi-Fi vendors can use 80MHz channels in low-density environments, so long as they don’t have to put the APs too close together, but generally they have to fall back on 40MHz channels – a less efficient use of the available channel width.
But Meru’s virtualised single-channel architecture means it can exploit the benefits of the 80MHz by using two 5GHz radios in its APs without the need to create non-overlapping channels. Meru can achieve higher speeds than its rivals, but while speed is of vital importance, seamless connectivity on the move is the key.
Bastani says: ‘The reason we have focused on the three verticals of education, hospitality and healthcare is that they all require a high degree of user mobility. We are not really targeting environments where mobility just means walking from your office to the meeting room.’