The community mesh company will soon offer new, rugged hardware that couples with a solar panel for power.
Meraki Networks, the San Francisco-based company making mesh products suitable for homes and entire communities, has had an outdoor product in beta testing for a while. Today, they announced the refined version of that product, which they call a weatherproof outdoor repeater, which can come with a whole new way to get power.
The new $99 Meraki Outdoor — which meshes with the indoor Meraki Mini that costs $49 — will have a completely new design and a more sensitive radio with an external 2dBi antenna, according to Meraki CEO and founder Sanjit Biswas. “The newest feature is a solar powered battery add-on,” he says. “It plugs right into the outdoor kit.” The Meraki Outdoor has two Ethernet ports (10/100 Mbps) and also supports third party antennas, boosting range from 740 feet to a few miles with the right directional antenna.
The solar kit — which could run as much as $500 per node, though Biswas is hoping it’ll be much cheaper — is also unique in that stats about it are relayed back to the Meraki Dashboard, the company’s online management program used by all Meraki customers to run their networks. With the stats, Biswas says, “We can get more efficiency out of the panels.” Despite the high price of the solar panel and battery setup, he says that in some areas, like a rural town or rooftop, it’s still cheaper than running a power line.
The Dashboard software is constantly upgraded without much hoopla, Biswas says. The latest addition was the ability for a person to set up a private network with security like WPA while still supporting a public network with the same hardware — using dual SSIDs from the single radio, each using only a certain amount of administrator-defined bandwidth.
The Meraki Minis currently support 802.11g, though Biswas says he’s happy that the 802.11n draft seems stable, and predicts that an 11n mesh node from Meraki could arrive later this year or early in 2008.
Earlier this year, Meraki launched an initiative to unwire an entire neighborhood in San Francisco, which just happens to be the home of many Meraki employees. Interested parties can sign up at sf.meraki.net to help support it. In March, Biswas said the company wanted to hand out 1,000 Meraki repeaters; so far, they’ve only got 60 in the field. He says, however, that’s been more than enough to get 3,000 distinct users on the network, usually with about 250 of them online simultaneously. He says that right now, the bottleneck lies in getting the products to the volunteers, who have shown plenty of enthusiasm.
To avoid potential hassles with broadband providers who may not like their pipes being shared by a whole neighborhood, Meraki is working with the sharing-friendly ISP Speakeasy to get Meraki-paid-for DSL lines into the area. Despite this, Biswas says, with thousands of customers in 35 different countries under its belt now, Meraki has yet to see a single broadband provider make a complaint about sharing. He explains, “They see wireless as another, cheaper way to sell [their services].”
The city of San Francisco has been trying to get a citywide Wi-Fi network going for months now, with EarthLink and Google as the proprietors, but has seen constant delays due to political infighting and worries by citizens. The latest complaint — in the form of an appeal to the Board of Supervisors to prevent installation of 2,200 Wi-Fi nodes — is from a group calling itself SNAFU (San Francisco Neighborhood Antenna-Free Union). It specifically wants to limit placement of wireless antennas near citizens. Environmental review of SNAFU’s appeal could take a year.
In his coverage of this latest stumbling block, Wi-Fi pundit Glenn Fleishman predicted that the city and EarthLink will inevitably walk away from the deal due to the combination of all the above factors, and that “this network is dead.”
That may well be all the better for Meraki and the hundreds of existing hotspots already in San Francisco. The new Meraki Outdoor product will be available later this summer.