ZoneFlex 7363 Review: A Cost-Effective WLAN

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Ruckus’ latest access point has a lower profile than previous models, and a lower price than its rivals… and delivers high performance

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 same.

Like its predecessors, the 7363 leverages Ruckus’ beamforming technology (called BeamFlex) to optimise a client’s connection across an array of embedded antennas 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).

Using ZAP and IxChariot to measure performance

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 118Mbps in the 5GHz band and 53Mbps in the 2.4GHz band. At the longer distance, I saw about 10Mbps for the 2.4GHz band and 8Mbps 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 percent).

In the 2.4GHz band, ZAP reported an average of around 98/68Mbps (50th/99th percentile) at close range, and 17.5/7Mbps at distance. For the 5GHz band, I recorded 179/140Mbps at close range and 24/11Mbps at distance.

Senior Technical Analyst Andrew Garcia can be reached at agarcia@eweek.com.

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