Review – Ruckus ZoneFlex 7761-CM Outdoor High Performance and Power Professional Access Point / Cable Modem

Introduction

I was fortunate enough to score a professional class access point + DOCSIS 3.0 cable modem device for a fraction of the official cost (somewhere towards $2,000!!!). I bought it because my house is built from some weird materials and I normally need 4 different access points to cover it from side to side. I have a DLINK Dir 615, one DIR 655, the Time Warner’s given Arris TG1672g and a Buffalo AirStation WZR-600DHP and used all of them to cover my house. We are using our tablets a lot and they are not powerful/sensitive enough to work from every room. While my 4 AP solution worked, it was annoying to switch from one SSID to another as we would move from living room to the bedroom. As I mentioned, I got a Ruckus ZoneFlex 7761-CM rather cheap (still a bit more expensive than an office AP/router though) so I decided to give it a try. What you will read in this review is the description of my experience with it for the last couple of months.

Note: While I am only using it as a standalone access point to cover my own home, Ruckus ZoneFlex 7761-CM can be used in a mesh managed by a ZoneDirector controller capable of controlling hundreds of APs. This solution is not part of the current review.

What’s in the Box

Once you open the (quite big) shipping box you’ll find inside the Ruckus 7761-CM access point itself connected to the weather protective metallic bracket, the manual, a type F to type N coax adapter and a water resistant cap. While this access point supports 5Ghz bad, the necessary external antennas are not included as part of the basic package and can be ordered as an option from Ruckus’s website. I am not using 5Ghz option because 2.4Ghz band is more than fast enough for me, especially if you use 40Mhz bandwidth and from my experience with 5GHz WiFi, the range is limited by the technology even with external antennas.

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Features

Integrates BeamFlex™ Smart Antenna Technology
  • Advanced Smart Wi-Fi with concurrent 802.11n dual-band radios maximize capacity and coverage
  • Patented high-gain smart antenna array technology delivers unprecedented range and reliability
  • Integrated smart antenna array with over 4,000 unique patterns for ultra availability
  • Directional antennas dynamically combine to deliver two- to four-times the coverage area compared to typical outdoor APs
  • Adaptive antenna technology with 802.11n (3 × 3) combined with unique interference mitigation technology delivers up to an additional 6dB of BeamFlex gain in addition to the 10 dBi of physical antenna gain
Easy installation
  • Strand mounted for where Ethernet cabling is not feasible.
  • Integrated DOCSIS 3.0 certified modem
  • Leverages existing cable for mounting, power, backhaul
  • Lightweight enclosure simplifies deployment
  • PoE output allows connecting other devices such as an IP camera
True Plug-And Play Multimedia Wireless LAN (WLAN)
  • Provide hotspot services to hotels, resorts, train stations, and other public locations.
  • Create different quality of service for various WLANs to provide tiered services.
  • BeamFlex and expert QoS software optimize delay-sensitive, IP video and high-density voice over Wi-Fi (VoFi)
  • Centrally managed as part of a unified indoor/outdoor wireless LAN
  • Remote reboots between APs and Cable Modem Management minimizes truck rolls
Hardened enclosure for harsh outdoor environments
  • IP-67 water and dust proof plastic enclosure with strand mount for deployment at cable MSOs

Technical Specifications

Power
  • Power by Cable Infrastructure (40-90 V)
  • 40 to 90V AC quasi-square wave, 47 to 63 Hz through 5/8” hardline connector
Power Draw
  • 10W standby mode
  • 25W (with Heater and PoE output Disabled)
  • 50W (with Heater and PoE output Enabled)
Physical Size
  • 16.3” (415mm) L x 12” (305mm) W x 11.5” (290 mm) H
Weight
  • 15 lbs (6.8 Kg)
RF
  • Adaptive antenna array that provides 4,000+ unique antenna patterns
  • Maximum EIRP1
  • 2.4 GHz: 33 dBm
  • 5 GHz: 31 dBm
  • Physical antenna gain:
  • 10dBi (2.4 and 5 GHz)
  • BeamFlex SINR Tx gain2: up to 6 dB
  • BeamFlex SINR Rx gain: up to 4 dB
  • Interference mitigation: up to 15 dB
  • Minimum Rx sensitivity3: -95 dBm
Ethernet ports
  • 1 port, auto MDX, auto-sensing RJ45
  • 10/100 Mbps Power over Ethernet (802.3af) output
Environmental conditions
  • IP-67 rated
  • Operating air temperature: -40°C – 65° C (-40°F – 149°F) Shock and vibration: ETSI300-019-1-4
Cable Modem Specifications
Standard
  • DOCSIS 3.0 with 8 x 4 bonded channels
  • Euro-DOCSIS 3.0 (optional)
Cable Modem Throughput
  • Up to 320 Mbps
Protection Circuits
  • IEC 60000-4-5 level 4 surge
  • GR1089 – 6 kV (3000 A) surge
Performance and Supported Configurations
Concurrent Stations
  • Up to 100/radio (200/AP)
Target UDP Throughput
  • Up to 50 Mbps sustained throughput over 500 feet to client devices
Traffic Management and Quality of Services
Classes of Service
  • Voice, video, best effort and background
Software Queues
  • Four per station
802.11e
  • Supported
Automatic Traffic Classification
  • Automatic type of service tagging for multicast video packets
Rate Limiting
  • Supported
VLAN support
  • 802.1Q
Heuristic Classification
  • Supported
Management
Configuration
  • Web user interface, CLI (Telnet), SSH HTTP/S, SNMP statistics interface
Statistics
  • LAN, wireless and associated stations (accessible via Web UI)
Auto AP Software Updates
  • FTP or TFTP, remote auto available
Management
  • FlexMaster or individually managed
  • SNMP v3
Wi-Fi
Standards
  • IEEE 802.11a/b/g/n
  • 2.4GHz and 5GHz concurrent operation
Supported Data Rates
  • 802.11n: 6.5Mbps – 130Mbps (20MHz)
  • 6.5Mbps – 300Mbps (40MHz)
  • 802.11a: 54, 48, 36, 24, 18, 12, 9 and 6Mbps
  • 802.11b: 11, 5.5, 2 and 1 Mbps
  • 802.11g: 54, 48, 36, 24, 18, 12, 9 and 6Mbps
Radio Chains
  • 3×3
Spatial Streams
  • 2
RF Power Output
  • 27 dBm / 500 mW
Channelization
  • 20 MHz and/or 40 MHz
Frequency Band
  • IEEE 802.11n: 2.4 – 2.484 GHz and 5.15 – 5.85 GHz
  • IEEE 802.11a: 5.15 – 5.875 GHz
  • IEEE 802.11b: 2.4 – 2.484 GHz
Operating Channels
  • 2.4 GHz channels: US/Canada: 1-11, Europe (ETSI X30): 1-13
  • 5 GHz channels: Country dependent for the following channel ranges: 36, 40, 44, 48, 52, 56, 60, 64, 100, 104, 108, 112, 116, 120, 124, 128, 132, 136, 140, 149, 153, 157, 161, 165
BSSID
  • Up to eight per radio (16 total)
Power Save
  • Supported for client
Wireless Security
  • WEP, WPA-PSK, WPA-TKIP, WPA2 AES, 802.11i, 802.1x
Certifications
  • U.S. (in process)
  • WEEE/RoHS compliance
  • Wi-Fi Alliance Certification (Wi-Fi Certified™) (in process)
  • DOCSIS 3.0 certification (in progress)
  • [1]Max power varies by country setting, band, and MCS rate
  • [2]BeamFlex gains are statistical system-level effects, translated to enhanced SINR here, and based on observations over time in real-world conditions with multiple APs and many clients
  • [3]Rx sensitivity varies by band, channel width, and MCS rate

Powering

Now, it would be too nice if everything would be easy in life (and maybe a little boring). The Ruckus ZoneFlex 7761-CM is designed as a public access point deployed by such companies as Time Warner so it won’t accept regular 110V power. Instead it is designed to get it’s power from power over cable systems. You might not know, but there is electricity in the main TV cables, but filtered when it gets to your TV, so only the TV signal gets there. There are three different standards, 45V, 60V, 90V AC and naturally Ruckus ZoneFlex 7761-CM is designed to accept AC current between 40-90V via its coax input. Now comes the tricky part. If you want to use it also as a cable modem, you need to find a way to mix that power with the Internet signal and feed both to the coax input. If you are like me and just need it to serve as a super duper access point, you just supply the power and that’s it. While the manual states it needs minimum 45V, I believe it is more to match the actual power over cable standards. I had a 32V transformer around and powered it up just for test. It is rock solid without any reboots for more than two weeks now, so it will work on lower voltage as well.

 

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All it’s not lost though, Ruckus ZoneFlex 7761-CM has an additional 12V DC (2A) input used mainly for testing/configuration before deployment. While the max power needed is around 50W, it includes an internal heater (yeah, this AP has an internal heater usually on under 32F). While connected to the 12V power supply the heater will never be on, but most of us won’t care about it, especially if you plan to use it indoors like I do. You need a special cable to use the 12V input, but it’s not difficult to make. Also, while powered via 12V option, the Power over Ethernet option will be disabled.

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I powered the Ruckus in two different ways with complete success and stability using a power over coax cable power supply made “in house” and a regular 12 V power supply via a custom cable also made in house. Check the following photos for more info:

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Configuring

The chance is whatever units you will find in stock cheaper than the manufacturer price won’t have the latest firmware, so a good idea is to upgrade it to the last version before you start using it. There are several steps needed to make it work as an independent access point and I’ll detail them here.

  1. Initially the access point comes with a default IP of 192.168.100.2. With newer firmware, it will default its initial IP on 192.168.0.1 if it doesn’t detect a DHCP server. My recommendation is to set a fixed IP address matching your network first and upgrade the firmware after that, otherwise you will need a network scanning tool to find it’s IP address if it was assigned dynamically. In my case, I set the IP address of my notebook’s Ethernet adapter to 192.168.100.77 (any value other than 192.168.100.2 will work in IP PCthe 192.168.100.x range).
  2. Point your web browser to 7761-CM’s initial IP address. The username is “super”, the default password “sp-admin”ap 2
  3. Once you logged in, navigate to Configuration::Internet tab and set your IP address to your liking. I set mine towards the end to be sure no other DHCP devices on the network will interfere with it (192.168.0.233) and the gateway pointing to my cable modem address (192.168.0.1)/ Click Update Settings. Once you change the IP address, you will need to point your web browser  ap 12to the new IP to access the 7761-CM’s web page.
  4. Upgrade the firmware. For convenience you can download the latest firmware from here. After a minute or so you should have the latest version available. This step is very important, in my experience some older firmware versions are not very stable. The latest version as of January 2016 is 100.1.0.0.432.ap 7ap 10ap 14
  5. Set your network SSID, encryption and password as needed. You have 8 different SSIDs per radio that you can turn on/off and rename as desired and a variety of encryption schemes. You can also turn on/off the 2.4Ghz and the 5Ghz radios. I recommend using WPA2/PSK/AES only settings to achieve the maximum performance.
  6. You can also disable the heater if you don’t intend to install the AP outdoor. It typically comes on at or below 32F.

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Deployment

Once everything was set and done, I was ready to deploy my new enterprise grade access point. It has six very bright colorful LED lights to indicate its status and it’s a joy to use. To take advantage of its power and maximize its range, I recommend installing it as high as you can. Even at a lower level on top of a speaker it easily covers my house.

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Testing

Android OS offers good access directly to the wireless chip functions so it is easy to find apps that will show you specific channel overlap, energy and power. I used such apps to measure the power in various parts of the house where my other routers show an either very weak signal or they are completely unreachable.

I have a bunch of access points in my house or around, but here is a direct comparison between Ruckus 7761-CM and a D-Link DIR-655, my previous main access point measured at the same distance of both. Actually what I did is placed both 7761-Cm and DIR-655 side by side and them walked around the house measuring the signal.

Important: The dBm scale (or decibel-milliwatts) is a logarithmic scale. That means a difference of around 3 dBm represents a doubling of measured power and a difference of 10 dBm represents a difference of an order of magnitude. For example -65dBm signal is 10 times stronger than a -75dBm signal!!! The measurements show that Ruckus 7761-CM is at least 10x stronger than a DIR-655 and sometimes more depending of the measuring distance. Farther you get from the source, the actual difference increases as in the screenshot below.

side by side comparison

network data - various distances

network analysys 3

Channel energy between various access points in my area. Remember, a 3 dBm difference represents roughly a doubling of measured power while a 10 dBm difference represents an order of magnitude (10x) difference in power.

network analysis - various distance

Conclusion

Somewhat as expected, an industrial access point will behave much better than a home/small office one. My Ruckus 7761-CM easily overpowered all my other access points, offers a superb full home coverage and has a much higher sensitivity as well. One reason they are so expensive after all. While buying one at the full manufacturer price is expensive and overkill, if you can score one for $250-$300 is probably the best investment you can make for your home network and it will cover any kind of reasonable usage you might have including multiple 4K streams. It might take a little bit of tinkering but with a monster like this your house will be by far the most visible on the WiFi map. Just don’t forget to password protect it, otherwise neighbors from 2 houses distance will be able to connect to it 🙂 Honestly, it’s been a while I have been this excited by a gadget, but the difference is just this great. Not sure what my house is made of, but before I had to use 4 different access points to ensure coverage side to side, now one ZoneFlex 7761-CM does the job and better than before. Granted it’s not cheap but it is well worth it!

You can buy it now from Amazon for $295, a significantly below the $1999 MSRP.

Pros

  • Unmatched coverage and sensitivity
  • 8 different SSIDs available for each radio for a total of 16 each with its own password
  • Hot Spot capable
  • Cool industrial design

Cons

  • Requires a bit of experience powering up
  • Expensive if bought from manufacturer/official dealer

Gallery

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  • Pwq

    Interesting reuse for this AP, but isn’t the ethernet port on it limited to 10/100? That would seem like a major disadvantage to me..