Do You Know The Way? Ruckus, Partner Team On San Jose Wi-Fi

Ruckus Wireless and partner SmartWave Technologies are involved in one of the country's most high-profile municipal outdoor Wi-Fi deployments -- the design and implementation of a new outdoor Wi-Fi network for the city of San Jose, Calif.

The network is expected to go live this summer and will offer what Ruckus described as free, "insanely fast" high-speed Internet services across San Jose's entire business district -- a 1.5-square-mile section spanning San Carlos Street to St. James Street and Almaden Avenue to 4th Street.

The system will be able to support tens of thousands of users and hundreds of terabytes' worth of traffic, according to the city, and support parking meters, digital parking signs and high-definition video as well.

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"It started with our need to enhance communications downtown with community applications, such as parking guidance and pay-to-park meters," said city of San Jose CIO Vijay Sammeta in a recent interview with CRN. "We inherited a Wi-Fi network that just didn't have the range, so we sought about revamping."

San Jose began providing Wi-Fi access in downtown hot spots as far back as 2004, but its legacy network -- provided by now-defunct MetroFi -- offered only sporadic coverage in the area.

The Ruckus deployment, which is being handled by Suwanee, Ga.-based SmartWave, one of Ruckus' top partners, includes two Ruckus ZoneFlex 7762 802.11n dual-band outdoor APs and two ZoneDirector 3050 central controllers installed at San Jose City Hall. Various Wi-Fi nodes -- about 30 in all, according to Sammeta -- will deploy on streetlights, buildings and other structures. San Jose also is using a number of ZoneFlex 7731 point-to-multipoint bridges to extend wireless broadband connections over miles and eliminate the need to run fiber to every access point. A few access points connected to San Jose's fiber network will handle backhaul traffic.

So-called muni Wi-Fi deployments fell out of favor after a brief fad in the previous decade, Sammeta admitted, as they cost a lot and cities made demands regarding coverage and access that most vendors and integrators couldn't meet.

"There was a lot of Kool-Aid being sold in this market," said Al Brown, SmartWave's president and CEO. "Everyone went through that with the rise and fall of muni Wi-Fi, and I always caution our guys not to get too caught up in all the shiny objects. Back during the rise, a lot of consultants did a poor job setting realistic expectations.

"But this opportunity came up," Brown continued, "and Vijay had some capital to build out a network, so he said to us, 'Let's take a look at all the different products out there.' His goal was to build the fastest network he could."

"There was the whole muni Wi-Fi boom and bust," Sammeta said. "But we wanted to put out a true Silicon Valley experience and set the benchmark. We had existing needs for city applications such as the parking meters, and the Wi-Fi is going to be an amenity to bolt onto those existing needs."

NEXT: How Ruckus Technology Fit The City's Bill

Sammeta said the city's demanding requirements -- from the span of the coverage to the need to support bandwidth-intensive applications such as multicast HD video -- eliminated several potential vendors right away. The deal came down to Ruckus and Motorola, he said, and Ruckus' beam forming technology -- a method of radio frequency transmission that can boost client signal transmission and throughput by focusing RF energy directly at Wi-Fi clients -- won out.

"There was not a lot of secret sauce in this market -- or so I thought," Sammeta said. "The interesting thing about what Ruckus does is that beam-forming and the antenna array. When we looked [at it] ... we saw yes, it really is different and yes, beam forming does mean fewer access points and covering greater distances. It's one thing to climb to the top of the hill and another thing to stay at the top of the hill -- they have a great technology, and their equipment isn't all that expensive."

"We have a lot of fiber downtown," Sammeta added. "The sheer availability of radio spectrum is the barrier more than anything else. That's what Ruckus does very well -- manage the spectrum."

Sammeta and Brown declined to provide exact details on the deal size, whose particulars were still being finalized at press time. San Jose's upgrade costs are around $100,000, with expected annual operating costs of $22,000, according to the San Jose Mercury News.

SmartWave, experienced in outdoor municipal Wi-Fi deployments, was Sammeta’s integrator of choice, having taken over management of the city's MetroFi network in 2009, according to Brown.

"This is all lessons in RF and physics -- we don't get too emotional about the product sets," he said. "But this is a great product for a congested area which, from a tech standpoint, San Jose is becoming. Ruckus really understood what Vijay's vision was and it was a very amicable negotiation process. And price? On a per-radio basis, Ruckus came in about half of what a competitive product was."

Sammeta admitted he wasn't familiar with eight-year-old Ruckus before the proposal process began.

"I'd looked at hardware reviews of them and they seemed very compelling, and new and unique," he said. "There was no one like them to be another person at the table. I hope this deal gets them to sell a bunch more gear because they're that compelling of a difference. Hopefully they can consider San Jose a world-class showcase for what they can do."

Ruckus has blazed a path through the highly competitive wireless networking space and is one of the industry's most-often mentioned IPO candidates -- and acquisition targets. Ruckus in late February copped an additional $21.7 million in financing -- increasing its total venture investment to $72.7 million since 2004 -- and brought on former Verizon Communications executive vice president Dick Lynch and former Ericsson product area IP and broadband networks chief Georges Antoun as directors.

Researcher Gartner recently pegged Ruckus as having the highest year-over-year revenue growth among wireless LAN suppliers in the fourth quarter of 2011, with growth of 134 percent. Its global market share is now about 4.9 percent in terms of vendor revenue and unit shipments of WLAN coordinated access points.

On the carrier Wi-Fi side, Ruckus is a market leader, according to researcher the Dell'Oro Group, with a 26.7 percent share of service provider Wi-Fi mesh node shipments for 2011.