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Meru Makes The Honor Roll In Philadelphia Schools

Meru Networks has come up from behind and apparently stole the prize for the largest deployed Wi-Fi installation in North America. Publicized accounts mention over 3000 access points installed at Ohio State University, and a source has said that Microsoft has over 10,000 access points deployed worldwide, both wins using Aruba Networks. In Australia Victoria's Department of Education deploy a few more: 10,000 access points across 1700 sites in Cisco's autonomous mode. Previously hinted in the Mobile Observer newsletter, it's now public news that the School District of Philadelphia has deployed over 7000 Meru radio switches in more than 90 schools. What's remarkable is that this is just the beginning - contingent on further funding from E-Rate, twice the existing number of schools will be deployed to complete the project. A representative from Meru Networks predicted that another third would be installed this coming year, and when that happens, the district will have the most wireless access points of any organization in the world. The School District of Philadelphia encompasses 268 schools, 166,000 students, and 10,000 teachers.

It was just a year ago that Meru announced their involvement with Philadelphia's "School of the Future" project, an initiative led by Microsoft. According to a school spokesperson in a radio interview with NPR, Microsoft's involvement in the "School of the Future" was to provide guidance and direction and they were not a significant financial supporter. Key themes of the "School of the Future" project included using technology and well-designed workspaces to help students achieve their maximum potential. The wireless network, one component of that project's technology infrastructure, was delivered by Meru.

Although the "School of the Future" has not been replicated to other Philadelphia schools, Meru's Wi-Fi has. What was just a handful of wired network drops per school has now been supplanted by a pervasive deployment of Wi-Fi. Laptop carts, a rather typical mechanism for deploying computing resources in educational environments, are used extensively. Meru's radio switches work well in addressing the capacity concerns of dense usage in a confined and open area. ( See Tech U: Compressed Air )

Although Meru has delivered 7000 radio switches for the School District of Philadelphia that represents 28,000 radios. Each RS-4000 (see RS4000 Data Sheet PDF ) actually two access points built in, and each access point contains two radios (one 802.11b/g, one 802.11a). Normally this design would throw a wrench into channel planning for traditional systems, but Meru has a single-channel approach. That means the two 802.11b/g radios will likely operate on the same channel, as well as the two 802.11a radios. Although an 8 and 12 radio switch were announced several years ago, the RS-8000 and RS-12000, they don't appear on Meru's website and it appears they were never generally available.

Avaya was the systems integrator for this project. Like all startups or smaller companies, Meru benefits from a vendor with a recognizable brand, market presence, and deep sales channel. Meru's relationship with Avaya extends back at least 3 years. It began as a co-marketing relationship, but in the summer of 2005 Avaya started reselling their product. One of Meru's key marketing points is that it's well-suited for Vo-Fi, which fits well with Avaya's enterprise PBX offerings.

One concern, perhaps minor in Philadelphia's selection process, was the city-wide metro Wi-Fi project being installed and managed by EarthLink, using gear from Tropos. With mesh nodes around school areas, Meru's single-channel approach allows the schools to work with the city to create a manageable channel plan that minimizes co-channel interference.