New Wi-Fi Innovations from Meraki

By Naomi Graychase

May 05, 2009

San Francisco-based start-up Meraki continues to lead the way in innovative Wi-Fi solutions. The young, creative-problem-solving company behind Free the Net in San Francisco, announced a new solar product and a rugged triple-radio 802.11n device in recent months.

San Francisco-based start-up Meraki continues to lead the way in innovative Wi-Fi solutions. The young, creative-problem-solving company behind Free the Net, the ever-expanding free, public Wi-Fi network in San Francisco, announced a couple of significant, new, innovative product offerings in recent months.

“We are continuing to develop the hardware and the software sides of our business,” says Meraki CEO, Sanjit Biswas. “On the hardware side, it’s about making devices that cover more and more area and have more and more capacity. On the software side, it’s about being more fully featured so you can do more sophisticated things.”

In December, the San Francisco-based company announced that its solar access point (AP) had finally come out of beta with many improvements, including a significant reduction in the size and weight of the battery. Meraki Solar ($848-$1,497) is a rugged Wi-Fi mesh device powered entirely by its own solar panel and solar-charged battery. Since it is completely energy independent, Meraki says Solar is ideal for providing wireless LAN coverage in hard-to-wire areas without easy access to power supplies, such as business districts, resorts, rural areas, parks, and golf courses. The self-contained units come ready to mount on roofs, walls, poles, or just about any surface that receives sun exposure.

“It’s a radio that has a battery and a solar panel and is all weather-proof,” says Biswas. “You can mount it anywhere. You can stick it on top of a building in a park—it doesn’t even require power—and it acts as a mesh repeater and serves clients. There aren’t too many Wi-Fi networking companies with an integrated solution like that. On the software side, we power-manage the device and can show stats remotely. We can make it smaller than with third-party components.”

Biswas says Meraki Solar can survive up to three days with absolutely no sunlight. “It makes our customers’ lives a lot easier. We have had customers using it for quite a while in New England,” he says.

Meraki Solar’s battery is lithium iron phosphate, which, says Biswas, provides for higher power density, faster recharging, and increased safety. “This is the same type of battery used to power the One-Laptop-Per-Child (OLPC) computer, and the Meraki Solar is the first product of its kind to leverage this cutting-edge technology.”

Battery charging is monitored and managed via Meraki’s Web-based management Dashboard, the same management tool included with all Meraki devices.

Meraki recently supplied free Wi-Fi to attendees at Green: Net 09, “the first green conference for the IT industry” held in San Francisco’s Presidio in March.

“We partnered with the Green: Net folks and provided free Wi-Fi to 350-400 attendees. We provided Wi-Fi throughout the whole conference venue and then deployed some Solars outside in the green grassy area, and some MR58 products—high-capacity ones—located indoors where a couple of hundred people will be gathered. The network often had over 120 simultaneous users on it,” says Biswas.

The MR58

In February, Meraki launched the MR58 ($1,499), its first triple-radio 802.11n device. According to Meraki, the weatherproof MR58 delivers high-bandwidth across multiple hops, supports long distance links, and is ideal for high-bandwidth content, such as voice and video. It includes the premium networking features of Meraki’s cloud-based Hosted Services, such as centralized configuration, monitoring, and security.

“The MR58 has three 11n radios and a lot of capacity to serve on the order of ten times more than the previous generation. If you have an event like Green: Net or a hotel or apartment complex with lots and lots of users who want to stream video, this is the right product for you. High-performance and high-capacity, it’s also rugged, so you can leave it in the elements like our outdoor product. It has external antenna connectors and can form a long distance link between two sites that are far apart; attach external antennas and you can extend the range of one connection. Typical customers have a FiOS line or a metro Ethernet and are spreading that around a campus or larger setting. It’s totally interoperable with our other products,” says Biswas.

With the MR58, Meraki is targeting the market for large outdoor Wi-Fi networks, such as the ones found across campuses, apartment complexes, hotels and resorts, and other large outdoor areas, such as business districts and even entire cities.

“It is less than half the cost of traditional wireless networks and can be deployed in a fraction of the time. In addition, the MR58 is well-suited for indoor areas with high-bandwidth needs, such as classrooms, convention centers, stadiums, student housing, and manufacturing facilities,” says Biswas.

The Town of Babylon, NY is in the process of providing free wireless Internet service in all of its 38 town parks and beaches using Meraki MR58s. Once completed, the wireless network will be available to 220,000 residents and their guests when they visit the outdoor recreational locations.

“Babylon, New York wants to offer free Wi-Fi in parks and beaches. They have a metro Ethernet, like 100 MB or something like that. They’re using MR58s to form a backbone and then we spread wirelessly into the nooks and crannies. If it needs to handle 10,000 users a day, it can scale up to that,” says Biswas.

Security-wise, Meraki offers “WPA2-Enterprise support all the way up to the biggest and baddest,” says Biswas. “You can authenticate on the network using usernames and passwords, and we offer QoS, as well, and support for 802.11e for prioritizing voice over data is built into the system now, as well. It continues to be real easy to manage. Our Web hosted system continues to improve. You can use our system to deploy large systems very quickly. Customers are saying they were considering a Cisco or an Aruba solution, but we can it do for half or a lot less than that here.”

Meraki is scheduled to make another round of new product announcements this month.

For more on Meraki, read “Meraki in Tiers,” “Meraki Frees the ‘Net in San Francisco,” and “Meraki Makes Changes.”

 Naomi Graychase is Managing Editor at Wi-Fi Planet. She has been reporting on personal technology since 1994. Follow her on Twitter. Join Wi-Fi Planet on Facebook. 

Originally published on .

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