Can Wi-Fi Rescue The 3G Operators?

Mobile broadband is growing too fast for the operators’ networks to keep up, says Selina Lo of Ruckus. She says they should turn to Wi-Fi for assistance

The model could emerge now, because dual mode handsets have become a reality, she added: “In 2008 there were less than 50 million dual-mode handsets sold; in 2009, will be 100 million, and by 2012 there will be 500 million sold, according to ABI Research.”

Wi-Fi is booming now because of the massive success of the iPhone, she said: “Thank God for the iPhone, it’s changed Wi-Fi’s role in the whole mobile infrastructure. ” It is also being built into other clients, including gaming devices: “There’s 100 percent penetration there, and netbooks are 100 percent penetrated. We’re talking about having a billion Wi-Fi end points in the market by 2012.”

What does Ruckus offer?

It’s a retro market, really, that has failed once. The previous leader, Colubris, was bought up by HP when it found that wireless service providers were not enough to sustain it. Ruckus’ experience in working with operators could make it a successor if the market takes off again, said Lo: “Our access point has better coverage than the others [thanks to the antenna technology]. And we have put in a lot of carrier features for hotspot access.”

“With our smart antennas, we get signals further without adding more power,” said Lo. As a result you need fifty percent fewer access point, or even less, to cover the equivalent area.” Precise Wi-Fi beams don’t waste power in other directions, she said, so the same power can get the signal further.

All wireless vendors are looking leaner and hungrier at the moment, and Lo counters the news that rival Meru raised $30 million in venture funding, by claiming not to need that kind of support: “You can always raise money from loan sharks. Our business is doing OK, and our investors are continuing to support us. We actually do have money in the bank and we don’t have to raise money in the near term.”

Ruckus has been concentrating on medium-sized businesses, which Lo describes as the “Unfortunate 50,000”, in contrast to the Fortune 500: “It’s much less crowded, and much less competitive,” she said. And is it working? “Well, if your revenue is flat, flat is the new growth! The channel part of our business is actually growing a little bit, which is better than the norm.”

And Ruckus’ enterprise product, launched last year, has been doing well, she said. Originally Ruckus used its beam-forming to provide a cheap alternative system, offering the new faster 802.11n Wi-Fi standard, but operating in only one of the Wi-Fi radio bands. It now has a dual-band system which she claims “beats every single 802.11n product in the market.”

By the end of this year, 802.11n systems will have fallen to the price of today’s products using the oler 802.11g standard, she said – and the price of business Wi-Fi is going to be important: “We have broken into networks which were Cisco or Aruba, because people are looking at doing things more pragmatically. Ruckus can do a good job at a more attractive price point.”