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The Virtual Cell pools a network of access points together so that they can be treated as one large resource by network managers and users alike. The technique is exactly the same as the one used by storage and server virtualization, in which many physical disk drives or processors are combined into a single resource. The benefits are also the same: economies of scale, reliability through redundancy, and flexibility to allocate capacity on-demand.
Like storage and server pooling, wireless access point pooling is only possible with an underlying physical technology that's built for it. Just as server virtualization only became mainstream when virtualization-specific machine code instructions were added to processors, Wireless LAN Virtualization depends on access points that can all transmit on the same channel and avoid broadcasting separate base service set identifiers (BSSIDs). No matter how many physical access points are present, clients see only one virtual access point.
The virtual access point has all the aggregate capacity of its components, but none of the artificial boundaries that non-virtualized access points impose over the air. Instead of a complex patchwork, client devices see a single blanket of coverage. This makes it easy to extend the network into new areas or fill holes, as no new channel planning is needed to handle network changes. Adding an access point is simple, like changing a light bulb.
Clients moving through a Virtual Cell remain connected to the same virtual access point at all times. From the client device's perspective, handoffs between access points do not occur. With other network architectures, clients must continuously scan for the strongest signal and try to guess which access point they should connect to, running the risk of a dropped connection. With Meru, the network is in charge.
Automatic Load Balancing
Wireless LAN Virtualization doesn't just pool physical access points. It also pools Virtual Cells themselves, as the spectral efficiency of Meru's architecture enables multiple Virtual Cells to coexist in the same physical space. With each cell requiring only one channel, the number of cells layered together is limited only by the number of radios installed. Although microcell systems sometimes claim to be multi-channel, they restrict each channel's availability to the coverage area of an individual access point. Meru's layered Virtual Cells can make every channel in use available everywhere in the network.