What Meru and Xirrus Need to Do

I’m not a big deal, but I know a guy who is. And- I have pulled off San Jose’s most brazen balloon theft. These two facts combined qualify me to advise multi-national wireless networking companies on communications strategies. Here’s my advice for Meru and Xirrus, after visiting with both companies for Wireless Field Day 5.

Both companies are headed by obviously intelligent technologists who are passionate about their product lines. Each has well-spoken customers willing to testify on the effectiveness of their gear. Both are still in business in a pretty competitive space, and hoping to grow their shares of the WLAN market. And both have unique technical stories that set them apart from their industry peers.

And here is the problem.

For years, I’ve listened to a number of briefings with Meru and Xirrus and always walked away with a nagging sense that each is actually a bit uncomfortable talking about their  “specialness” to any depth when dealing with Classically Trained WLAN Types. Xirrus does the array thing, and Meru rocks the single-channel architecture groove. Both companies want to talk about their bigger stories, but many of us don’t feel satisfied with terse “trust us, it works” explanations on features that are radically different from industry norms. So… briefings grind to a halt because tech-analysts want to know why we should accept that these companies have actually found a different way to do things. But the companies’ speakers obviously don’t want to spend their camera time on these years-controversial details, and neither party quite feels great at the end of the experience.

And here’s the fix.

There’s certainly a fine line between disclosing intellectual property and being open with those asking pointed questions about your technology. But that line needs to be walked when you build product lines on unique technical approaches. Sam Clements and Keith Parsons are well within their professional purview to challenge Xirrus on how they can pack so many antennas into such a little box without them creaming each other, especially when other vendors sometimes bash Xirrus for their designs. And Chis Lyttle is proper in asking a few times for more info on Meru’s “special sauce” even if it slows down Meru’s onboarding demo. Tech people want to hear what tech people want to hear, and neither company tends to want to get into the nitty gritty that would get us all to shut up already and let them get our full attention on their latest announcements.

Each company should embrace the living hell out of their uniqueness. Lead with it, don’t tap-dance around it. Stick it in our faces with good, digestible white papers and diagrams that clear up the mysteries once and for all without giving away IP. That way, when we all get together again, Xirrus and Meru can not only deliver the Message of the Day, but actually get us to listen to it instead of badgering them for information on the little things they do that many of us have been trying to comprehend for years.

We’d all be better for it, especially Meru and Xirrus.

40 thoughts on “What Meru and Xirrus Need to Do

  1. A

    Hi. I don’t think that white papers et all will help. These companies walk on the technological edge of unbelievable for a “classical” (loved that expression) type of guy. Why is client-to-client interference not a problem for Meru’s SCA in HD deployment? How come that Cirrus’ arrays do not self-interfere, when other vendors say “don’t place APs within 1m from each other”? Why Ruckus’ beamforming (TX only!) is still better than standard one? There really is no way except “trust me, it works” or “try it”, unless you want to go into maths.
    If you do not agree, I challenge you to write a blog post on why 802.11n spatial multiplexing works w/o any math: why can AP transmit 2-3 different signals on the same channel w/o them self-interfering and creating utter mess in the air 🙂 BTW, this IS the “trust me, it works” moment for .11n, that everyone takes for granted.
    Also, a great way to troll marketing engineers of ANY vendor, since very few of them really understand. 🙂

    1. Keith R. Parsons

      I say we SHOULD get into the maths behind the special sauce. Ruckus will gladly bring out Victor and go over the math behind their Adaptive Antennas (and have done so in previous tech field days)

      Just this last week Matthew Gast did some fairly deep diving into the .11ac math issues.

      Don’t be afraid as a technical marketing team to get into the details – I *know* the TME teams have data that can be used to support their claims. We’re just asking for those details so we feel comfortable with the ‘trust me’ claims.

      We’re pretty big boys, and someone in the room or on-line will understand and stick with the actual technologists no matter how deep they go.

      Don’t be afraid of math – without it, none of us would understand hardly anything related to 802.11 technologies.

      1. A

        I’m with you on maths, when it’s about myself, I had to press quite hard to get an explanation on SDM, and in the end I got it from one Russian bloke. And that involved matrices, and complex numbers and a lot of other things I happily forgot since Uni, but he was able to produce sufficient proof. 🙂
        Question is, is the buyer interested in maths? My blogging experience shows that most people, even technical people, do not want to go beyond arithmetic…
        I agree that those vendors have to come up with something more convincing, I just want to emphasize that it’s quite hard to do so. How would you explain the principles of television to someone in 1890? How would you explain quantum physics to someone even now, when they ask “why”?

        I believe, one way of doing so is posting videos and testing scenarios for those “stumbling” questions for anyone else to try on their own. I mean, most of the vendors DO know the “disqualifying” questions other vendors use against them, but for some reason we don’t see too many counterclaims. Doing reproduceable demos, and, maybe, reviewing in-depth some of their patent claims might do a lot of good for those vendors, I’m totally with you on that.

      2. Keith R. Parsons

        I’ll agree to disagree with you on this one.

        I believe technical audiences, especially technical bloggers, can and should see the supporting evidence behind a vendor’s claims. This has NOTHING to do with selling it to the end-customers. (and I agree with you that customers don’t want math…)

        I like your idea of reviewing in-depth patents – show the world you really do have something unique and special that will make your products better than choosing a competitor’s.

        How to explain TV to someone in 1890 – just show them. It’s quite simple. Reproducible demonstrations – like you mentioned – would be a perfect way to excise the demons of ‘trust me’…

    2. wirednot Post author

      Something needs to be produced by each company… a few videos on the curious topics that the tech community can refer to, perhaps. Something, anything. Otherwise, most discussions will bog down because, for example , single channel for more interesting than simple industry standard onboarding.

      1. A

        Well, Meru did produce quite a lot and published on YouTube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FwpRrqOIUUM), but it kind of carefully walked around the main issue 🙂
        I had some discussion in comments a long time ago, but they seem to have disappeared.

        In the end, I totally agree with you that those vendors have to produce something more convincing, my point is that is not that easy to do that.
        I, probably, should have dropped the TV example and left just the quantum physics one. So that even when you see it, it’s still quite hard to believe that this happens _exactly_ because of , and not because the demo is rigged.
        My favourite example here is the never-ending Cisco-vs-Aruba marketing war, where they release YouTube videos showing how cool their features are, and how the opponents’ implementation of the same this is utter cr*p. As a result, I trust neither of those demos 🙂

        However, after finally having watched the Meru WTD5 videos today, I can understand why everyone is so agitated 🙂 Still have to watch Xirrus videos.

  2. Keith R. Parsons

    I couldn’t have said it better myself. You captured the main stumbling block each of these vendors has. They should be shouting their uniqueness – not trying to hide behind it. Either their IP is patentable, and thus protected. Or it could be nothing special enough for a patent, then why is a company still sticking with something the majority of other WLAN vendors could do, but just choose to not do.

    Either way – sharing some of the ‘how’ this technology works would go a long way toward getting undivided attention for what they want to talk about next.

    Kudos to both Meru and Xirrus for taking the plunge and walking in the ring with the Tech Field Day delegates – it took some courage to put your companies on the line, and you did it with class.

    It’s just that we were left feeling a little unsatisfied – and still not really understanding how your unique technology is an advantage for our customers.

  3. Pingback: What Meru and Xirrus Need to Do

  4. GT Hill

    The thing is, EVERYONE in those rooms knew why they are sidestepping those issues. I want to state right off the bat that this isn’t vendor bashing. ALL vendors have their own issues.

    Xirrus has the best 30 second pitch in the industry. “You want high density? Put a bunch of radios on one box. Only one device to wire and easier to manage.” That pitch resonates and makes sense to the average enterprise customer. What WE know is that it has a fundamental problem that is rooted in physics. You see, if Xirrus really did solve the problem of radio isolation with software configurable channels they could license that technology for more money than they would ever make in Wi-Fi.

    Meru’s pitch is also a good one because it’s rooted in a problem that everyone experiences using enterprise Wi-Fi. Interestingly enough their challenge is also related to physics. There is only so much traffic that can traverse over a channel. However, they gloss over this and try to tell the customer why it will still work.

    Maybe I’m not making any far-reaching predictions here but you (the group) will never get the answers you are looking for because the answers are too damaging and contrary to marketing.


    1. A

      I believe, the biggest issue is that all these fine techs (including BeamFlex) are use cases, as Guy from Meru mentioned. In some cases they shine, in others they fail completely. Some of those cases are very specific, and some are a bit broader, but they are still use cases. Yet for some reason (well, a very apparent reason), marketing people want us to believe that this use case technology is good all-round.

      In the end, IMHO, all these techs will follow the fate of all the fancy enhancements of the 10Mb-Ethernet era – once thicker pipes became available, the majority just stopped caring. Wi-Fi is already commoditized. We can already see CAC and TSPEC becoming less important with 802.11n (and even less with 802.11ac) for a generic voice use case. With .ac Wave 2 coming out and additional spectrum being released in both :”traditional” and new bands (.ad/af/ah/aj) the ultimate answer would be “just add more APs / upgrade to a new tech and don’t risk messing with the proprietary stuff”. As Lee rightfully mentioned before, wireless becomes less about wireless and more about architecture and services – same happened to wired LANs less than 10 years ago. I do not want to say that all the “advanced” techniques will wither away completely, but I have a feeling that they will become niche and use-case specific, like Motorola’s MEA, for example, that ended up in mine shafts and quarries.

  5. GT Hill

    Since Ruckus was brought into this conversation…

    I feel like we have been very forthcoming with information concerning how we do things. In fact, the more someone knows about RF, they better they understand our technology and the more they like it. On the contrary, the more a person knows about RF the more questions arise from Xirrus and Meru.

    Of course BeamFlex isn’t without debate but the debates are never end with us saying “Just believe us.” It may end with “Please test it” but we’ll never hope you’ll just believe and buy.


    1. Dani (@DaniF15)

      Ruckus for years said they support Beamforming (even in RFP) and we had to explain customers it is not physically possible with their antenna design. only recently they changed it to beamflex…. Ruckus defiantly counted on customer to “just believe ” in what they say….

      1. GT Hill

        We used to call our technology beamforming before 11n was even introduced. Once 11n chips with TxBF were introduced we had to change the name because it was confusing to the customer.

        I’m not sure who told you that it’s not physically possible to do TxBF with our antenna design since we can do it today. Of course it doesn’t matter because there is no client support but that’s a different conversation. 🙂


    2. Dani (@DaniF15)

      In general when saying beamforming (without any regard to TxBF 11n or AC) the meaning is constructive interference. constructive interference need all antenna to be in same polarity and a specific spacing between antennas.

      I am not trying to bash or anything , i think Ruckus is the Best AP in the US, but what i am trying to say is that sometimes its ok not to go to deep with your answers (same as beside calling it “sadistics” i didn’t heard from Ruckus any info about how Ruckus do their statistics ).
      some time going too deep will take you to a level of a “workaround” which is not patent able or just not in the knowledge of the company representative(some know mac other phy and most know mngmnt (-:…).

      Must also add that i also don’t know how Xirus mitigate the sidelobe issue and actually don’t believe they fully do. but it still doesn’t mean they don’t….

      1. Keith R. Parsons

        Actually, Ruckus’ adaptive antennas do NOT rely on constructive interference! They use an antenna system that adapts to form temporary directional antenna patterns in a per frame basis.

      2. Dani (danif15)

        Exactly my point Keith, they do antenna switching and NOT beamforming as they use to say.

        Any way the point is that companies that do nothing have anything to hide. Company that have some kind differentiator (ruckus,xirus ) need to keep some cards to themselves.

        when aruba cto announced the client match he also didnt go too deep on how they do it ( and a simple logic sw feature is not a differentiator imho) even when a simple sniffer capture can revile this info ,but I dont remember the wifi community criticizing him too much. …

      3. wirednot Post author

        A big difference (to me) between Ruckus and Aruba examples are that the features pointed out are just that- features or options- and not the core and crux of the system like with Meru and Xirrus. They are both soooo different from any competitors, I still say having something at the ready to make sense of their magic, even if not with absolute full technical disclosure, will silence many of the critics and let discussions like those at WFD5 proceed as they should and not bog down with questions the vendors know are coming but don’t want to get into.

      4. Dani (@DaniF15)

        If i remember correctly Xirus guy mentioned something about NULLing to the other same channel module and let the AP chose the channel for each modulus accordingly.
        imo its the same as the answer we got from Ruckus on how they know which antenna to chose per packet,just saying statistics is a very high level answer.

        As for meru, the Guy went on stage scared to death probably after reading delegates opinions about meru on the web but it felt like he came ready. I probably missed but i cant remember any question that was asked and he didn’t answer. maybe offline or a session i missed.

  6. wirednot Post author

    Thanks to all who replied- and just a reminder: I am not bashing either Xirrus or Meru. I’m simply recommending they address the elephants in the room square on until the topics become boring, so that the discussions they would like to have can take place.

  7. Pingback: What Meru and Xirrus Need to Do

  8. Bruce Miller

    Good discussions, and Xirrus would like to continue the dialog to ensure a better understanding about what we do.

    With the level of interest specifically around how we handle interference within our Arrays, we put together a post to summarize what we talked about at WFD5 and expand some more on the topic. If you are interested in reading more, see “Interference Mitigation Within the Xirrus Array” on our corporate blog: http://www.xirrus.com/blog

    Bruce Miller
    Xirrus, Inc.

  9. Haim Rapoport

    Guys, regarding Meru’s single-channel architecture, I just wanted to remind everybody that Extricom (www.extricom.com) is the originator of this architecture and the owner of the vast majority of patents in this domain. In fact, Extricom has taken the single-channel concept to its full potential, implementing a hardware-based real-time solution which allows to exploit all the benefits of the single-channel architecture (eliminating co-channel interference, seamless mobility without any roaming, excellent addressing of high-density environments and many other)
    We at Extricom do not have “an elephant in the room” – we discuss and pitch the single-channel architecture (we call it Channel-Blanket) to any required level of details.
    Would love to further discuss it with anyone who may be interested – use: http://www.extricom.com/category/contact-us .

    1. gthill


      Thank you for your comments. I noticed you said single-channel and high-density in the same sentence. Typically that isn’t allowed on the Internet but I’ll let it slide for now. Regarding channel blanket, do you implement this with multi-same-band (did I over hyphenate there?) radios or with multiple APs?

      IF answer = multiple-same-band-radio APs, see Xirrus comments
      IF answer = multiple APs, see customerbudget.xls

      What happens if a source of interference exists on blanket channel X in one part of the building?

      I guess that’s all I have for now. Back to watching Despicable Me 2.


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  14. Svend E.

    I’ve been dealing with Extricom’s solutions for some time now (since 2005) – and I’ve not seen any system / arcitechture / solution matching what Extricom can do. Not even close… Measured in bandwidth per client, stability, mobility and other things. It’s a bit expensive, yes – but knowing the delivered soultion just WORKS is very costumer-satisfying … and furthermore good business. So – u want ‘wire-like’ Wlan, have a look at Extricom!
    I’ve been doing Cisco, HP (3com) and Dlink (and other cell-type wlan) also. And they are all ‘never ending story’ regarding service efforts… :O/
    Sry, but that’s my experience.

    1. wirednot Post author

      Thanks for the comment, Svend. I’ve heard a couple of positive sentiments about Extricom of late, it sounds like they are treating customers right. For whatever reason, I tend to hear very, very little about Extricom in general WLAN conversation in my travels.


      1. Svend E.

        Yes, it’s a bit strange that Extricom isn’t more known in general. But it’s about to change I honestly think.. They’re also getting good credits on their ‘Large Scale Solutions’ – as their patented technology is just about perfect for large scale solutions.. Large Channel Blankets which doesn’t interfere with each other – and a gigantic amount of capacity. Furthermore they’ve implemented a ‘Shut-up’ technology, that makes Iphones/Ipads etc. stop poluting the air with noise (SSID probes..).. We’ll for certain see more of that in the ordinary SMB/Ent.-level hardware also. Service demands are nothing but increasing.
        I know – i sound like an Extricom employer (or ‘bought’) – but that’s not the case. I’ve seen some Extricom installations running on the 8’th year now. How many other systems can last that long? Both technological and physical? I’ve also known a local IT-admin got his Extricom wifi phased out, getting some other cell-based mainstream system instead – by POLITICAL reasons.. and he was like “AAAARRRRHHHH why???!?!?”. He was back at ‘adjusting TX-pwr’ + ‘move this AP a bit’ + ‘change this channel to 6’ + ‘ ooh maaan…’
        Well – let’s say that he’s working on it. :O]

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  16. Arjan

    It’s unclear to me Lee, why you claim that Meru’s “inner workings” are kept shrouded in mystery. On Youtube, they have a series of movies that explain their different take on “solving WiFi” in lay men’s terms. They also have a series where one of their founders (Dr. Vaduvur Bharghavan) explains all of that in depth, using a whiteboard. But bottom line is: it works, and there’s no black magic involved 🙂

    1. wirednot Post author

      I’m not the only one who has never heard a good explanation of the single cell approach, or been frustrated when you get close to hearing the important stuff only to have the dialogue cut short by “and this is where we get into our secret sauce…” If it’s all finally out there, so be it. But this has hardly been the norm.

      1. Arjan

        The movies have been out there since end of 2009 (look for “Part 1 – Meru WLAN Airtime Fairness explained” – more videos are available).

        @Svend E. I’m sure that everyone in the field has a number of stories about every wireless vendor. A capacity problem however is fundamentally impossible because of the option called “Channel Layering” which is unique to Meru’s single channel architecture.

      2. Svend E.

        “…A capacity problem however is fundamentally impossible” … Sad to announce that it’s just not present. Experienced it far from ‘unique’ or ‘impossible capacity problem’. Just a report from the real world. Cause could be underestimated installation, but that’s neather the case. I’m really sorry to spoil your day, but declairing a capacity issue as ‘fundamentally impossible by architecture’ is just ridiculous. Let it go.

    2. Svend E.

      Not to offence anybody, but i’ve heard about several examples of installations that theoretically should work seamless – but in lack of capacity, it’s just horrible…. Sry, but have about 4-5 ‘live’ examples. (Meru)
      Havn’t heard likewise of Xirrus though.

    3. apcsb

      I have actually discussed some of those movies with their author. As you can see in the comments below, Meru carefully walks around the key issues with their technology in those movies, drawing attention to APs (OK, that part is clever), but not discussing how clients will behave such environment.
      Non-standard point aside, just explain to me, how client-to-client congestion in SCA is handled.


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