Ruckus Wireless' new wireless LAN solution offers cost-conscious businesses good performance in hostile airspace.
The new ZoneFlex 7363 from Ruckus Wireless sets an aggressive
new point for enterprise-class 802.11n access points. With its intelligent
antenna management, nice mix of features, and good TCP
and UDP performance in hostile airspace, the ZoneFlex 7363 is an appealing
all-around wireless LAN solution for
I tested the dual-band ZoneFlex 7363, which lists for $599,
but Ruckus also announced the $499 ZoneFlex 7343, which operates only in the
The 7300 series eschews the bulbous or funky form factors
that characterized previous generations of Ruckus access points (like Ruckus'
previous-generation 802.11n AP, the ZoneFlex 7962), in favor of a slimmer
design. Measuring in at 7 by 7 by 1 inches and 0.88 pounds, the 7363 has a low,
unobtrusive profile and comes with slots in the chassis for a wall or ceiling
mount. The unit supports 802.3af Power over Ethernet via the device's lone Gigabit
Ethernet port. It also comes with two 10/100 Fast Ethernet ports, and it can be
custom-ordered with an optional USB port
that supports 3G dongles to provide a wireless backhaul (although this port was
disabled on my test unit).
The 7300 series can be deployed as a stand-alone access
point or as part of a centrally managed network in conjunction with a Ruckus
ZoneDirector. I deployed the 7363 in conjunction with a ZD1006 controller,
which quickly identified the device once it connected to my network. However,
after I approved the new access point for use with the controller, the ZD1006
immediately lost communication with the AP. Administrators should ensure their
controllers are updated at least to firmware Revision 8.2 before attempting to
join a 7300 series access point to the network.
Like the 7962, the 7363 supports a total of 16 SSIDs (eight
in each band), while allowing different security and QOS (quality of service) policies
for each. When using in conjunction with a ZoneDirector, by default the first eight
configured wireless networks will be replicated to each radio on the 7363, but
wireless administrators can organize SSIDs into WLAN groups to apply different
sets of SSIDs to each radio.
Like previous Ruckus APs, the 7363 supports Ruckus'
SmartMesh wireless mesh to extend the network to places that can't be Ethernet
cabled. The SmartMesh functionality automatically configured whether the 7363
was a root node (backhaul) or mesh node, but I could also manually assign the
role as well.
Because the 7363 offers concurrent dual-band support, with
separate radio chains for the 2.4GHz and the 5GHz bands, Ruckus advertises 600M
bps of theoretical throughput, with each radio operating at 300M bps. This is a
little disingenuous: For both radios to operate at the 300M-bps data rate (MCS15),
both need to utilize 40MHz channels. While Ruckus does support 40MHz channels
in both bands, by default the unit uses 20MHz channels, and many 802.11n clients
(including Intel's WiFi Link 5100 AGN and
4965AGN embedded adapters that I tested
with) do not support wide channels in the 2.4GHz band. Nor is it advisable to
typically use wide channels in the 2.4GHz band, given the dearth of
nonoverlapping channels. However, Ruckus is not the only wireless LAN
vendor advertising 40MHz channels in the 2.4GHz band, as Meru Networks does the
Like its predecessors, the 7363 leverages Ruckus'
beamforming technology (called BeamFlex) to optimize a client's connection across
an array of embedded antennae on a per-packet basis. This process helps
maintain the best possible connection despite environmental influences, thereby
avoiding paths with degraded signal quality. Whereas Ruckus' higher-end 7962
offered 19 antenna elements and 4,224 signal paths, the 7363 tones it down to
14 antenna elements and 320 signal paths.
To test Ruckus' ability to maintain the best available
quality, I eschewed relatively Greenfield testing in favor of TCP
and UDP performance tests performed in the cluttered RF space around eWEEK's
downtown San Francisco offices. I also paid absolutely no attention to AP
placement, putting the 7363 on a desk in a cubicle, measuring performance to a
laptop placed 15 feet away (with glass and metal in between) and just over 100
feet away (adding wood and walls to the mix).
To measure TCP
performance I used Ixia's IxChariot 7.1 and its High Performance Throughput
script, with one client pair simulating a large file transfer from wired
network to wireless. At the close measurement point, performance averaged out
to around 118M bps in the 5GHz band and 53M bps in the 2.4GHz band. At the
longer distance, I saw about 10M bps for the 2.4GHz band and 8M bps in 5GHz.
To measure UDP traffic, I tried out Ruckus' recently
open-sourced ZAP test tool (which can be
downloaded from code.google.com/p/zapwireless/), which sends a load of UDP
traffic from a wired server to the wireless client, measuring and reporting
throughput at intervals. ZAP is concerned
with the effects of wireless networking on real-time media, like voice or
video, so it reports performance for various percentiles to gauge not only the
average and best performance, but the worst as well. I've noted the performance
for both the 50th percentile as well as the 99th percentile (the worst 1
In the 2.4GHz band, ZAP
reported an average of around 98/68M bps (50th/99th percentile) at close range,
and 17.5/7M bps at distance. For the 5GHz band, I recorded 179/140M bps at
close range and 24/11M bps at distance.
Analyst Andrew Garcia can be reached at email@example.com.
Andrew cut his teeth as a systems administrator at the University of California, learning the ins and outs of server migration, Windows desktop management, Unix and Novell administration. After a tour of duty as a team leader for PC Magazine's Labs, Andrew turned to system integration - providing network, server, and desktop consulting services for small businesses throughout the Bay Area. With eWEEK Labs since 2003, Andrew concentrates on wireless networking technologies while moonlighting with Microsoft Windows, mobile devices and management, and unified communications. He produces product reviews, technology analysis and opinion pieces for eWEEK.com, eWEEK magazine, and the Labs' Release Notes blog. Follow Andrew on Twitter at andrewrgarcia, or reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.