Meraki Announces New Offerings

By Naomi Graychase

November 20, 2008

Meraki this week announced a new router/repeater that can plug into any wall socket to expand network coverage, along with new packages designed to get residential complexes or whole towns lit up simply and affordably. Also coming soon: Meraki Solar.

San Francisco-based startup, Meraki, masters of the mini muni and creators of San Francisco’s free, public Wi-Fi network (Free the Net), announced a product offering this week targeted at property owners wanting to offer Wi-Fi as an amenity to their renters or patrons.

The Residential Wi-Fi Pack, announced Tuesday, includes a new device, the Meraki Wall Plug ($179), which the company half-jokingly refers to as being like a “Glade PlugIn.” The miniature router/repeater functions like all of Meraki’s devices, as a three-in-one gateway, access point, and repeater. Plug it in and it will automatically locate and join an existing Meraki mesh network thereby boosting coverage into areas, such as hallways, that are hard to reach with cabling or traditional APs.

Since its origin as the idea of an MIT graduate student, the young Meraki has quickly gained traction in the market. It now has millions of users in 130 countries and its equipment creates and sustains San Francisco’s rapidly expanding free, public network—a network created so that Meraki could have a giant R&D testbed in its own back yard.

As the company has grown, its product offering has shifted to meet the demands of its user base.

“We’ve been seeing traction among people who want to deploy networks quickly, in hours or months, in towns or in buildings,” says Sanjit Biswas, Meraki founder and CEO. “Originally we started out with community-focused roots and we sort of sold across the board. Now, about 80% of our customers are coming from a business angle, which is an interesting and pleasant surprise.”

Demand for Wi-Fi at apartment, condominium, and dormitory complexes is on the rise and property owners looking to stay competitive are seeking affordable, easy-to-manage ways to deploy WLANs that will satisfy (rather than aggravate with spotty service). The Residential Wi-Fi pack is designed to blanket a 100-unit complex with Wi-Fi for less than $5,000. It is aimed, says Biswas, at customers who are considering a traditional network from big vendors, such as Cisco, Nortel, or Juniper, but who shied away from those solutions because of nonexistent IT staffs or limited budgets.

“We’re seeing a lot of resonance around this turnkey, cloud-based management,” says Biswas. “There is no controller on-site to install and manage. We are breaking down the barriers to Wi-Fi options. Our company is formed around the question, ‘Why isn’t there more Wi-Fi in the world?’ If you are a Fortune 500 or 1000 company, you can afford a full-on enterprise network, but there are a lot of businesses between that and the home Linksys guy.”

Biswas says that deploying and managing the solution is easy enough that any property manager could do it—even one with zero experience.

"We spent a lot of time keeping it easy to manage. The Web interface is designed to be like Gmail. [The network manager] can see everything going on in the network; see that all devices are plugged in, in plain English. We’ve made it very user friendly. If something came unplugged, it would show up as yellow or red. If it's going well, it's green. You don’t need to know anything about IP addresses or channels, but if you want to dig in that deep you can. Property managers have been able to use it well. With the Google maps integration, they can see a view of their property," says Biswas.Meraki Wall Plug.jpg

Main Street

The Meraki solution isn’t just for hotels and apartment complexes. Towns are turning to Meraki to light up their business districts—or in some cases, their whole towns.

“There is a fishing village in Chile with about 25,000 people,” says Biswas. “ It’s basically in the middle of nowhere and overlooked by the incumbent telecom provider. There are no phones and no broadband. But, they had a satellite link and a lease line in from the state government. So they spread through the whole town with Meraki. We can deploy to cover the whole town in, like, a week. For US$20,000, we can give more than 1,000 weekly users Wi-Fi access.”

For municipal customers, Meraki introduced the Main Street Starter Wi-Fi Pack earlier this month. It includes the technology and support to make it easy for cities and towns to deploy Wi-Fi across approximately 1 square mile for less than $10,000.

Biswas says the Residential Wi-Fi Pack is available for a limited time only, can be customized to each customer’s particular needs, and includes a 60-day money-back guarantee. “The Residential Wi-Fi Pack is mainly a way to get the conversation started,” says Biswas. “And we’ve extended our money back so that you can try it and return it, if you like it. It’s very different.” For residential complexes looking for someone to deploy or manage the solution on their behalf, Meraki will introduce them to a certified partner to handle the roll out. More details are at the Meraki Web site.

Here comes the sun

Meraki is also planning to release a redesigned version of its solar-powered repeater next month, which says Biswas, has overcome the engineering problems the beta version faced—how to shrink the battery down to a size that was manageable for shipping and deployment, and how to generate power even during inclement weather, such as what users experience in northern climates or during monsoon season.

“There is still a lot of demand for hard-to-reach or expensive-to-wire locations,” says Biswas. “Outdoor venues, on top of buildings, public parks; it’s a need we’re filling. We’ve redesigned the Solar and it now has a new battery. It’s lithium ion phosphate. It weighs only a couple of pounds, but it has the same power as a car battery. It’s the same technology as what is in the plug-in hybrids. It’s fully integrated and now all packaged together.”

The Meraki Solar officially launches December 4th. Users can provide their own solar panels or Meraki offers them, as well. The full configuration is $1499.

Naomi Graychase is Managing Editor at Wi-Fi Planet.com. She has been covering Meraki since 2006.



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