Email Delivery

Receive new posts as email.

Email address

Syndicate this site

RSS | Atom


About This Site
Contact Us
Privacy Policy


November 2010
Sun Mon Tues Wed Thurs Fri Sat
  1 2 3 4 5 6
7 8 9 10 11 12 13
14 15 16 17 18 19 20
21 22 23 24 25 26 27
28 29 30        

Stories by Category

Basics :: Basics
Casting :: Casting Listen In Podcasts Videocasts
Culture :: Culture Hacking
Deals :: Deals
Future :: Future
Hardware :: Hardware Adapters Appliances Chips Consumer Electronics Gaming Home Entertainment Music Photography Video Gadgets Mesh Monitoring and Testing PDAs Phones Smartphones
Industry :: Industry Conferences Financial Free Health Legal Research Vendor analysis
International :: International
Media :: Media Locally cached Streaming
Metro-Scale Networks :: Metro-Scale Networks Community Networking Municipal
Network Types :: Network Types Broadband Wireless Cellular 2.5G and 3G 4G Power Line Satellite
News :: News Mainstream Media
Politics :: Politics Regulation Sock Puppets
Schedules :: Schedules
Security :: Security 802.1X
Site Specific :: Site Specific Administrative Detail April Fool's Blogging Book review Cluelessness Guest Commentary History Humor Self-Promotion Unique Wee-Fi Who's Hot Today?
Software :: Software Open Source
Spectrum :: Spectrum 60 GHz
Standards :: Standards 802.11a 802.11ac 802.11ad 802.11e 802.11g 802.11n 802.20 Bluetooth MIMO UWB WiGig WiMAX ZigBee
Transportation and Lodging :: Transportation and Lodging Air Travel Aquatic Commuting Hotels Rails
Unclassified :: Unclassified
Vertical Markets :: Vertical Markets Academia Enterprise WLAN Switches Home Hot Spot Aggregators Hot Spot Advertising Road Warrior Roaming Libraries Location Medical Public Safety Residential Rural SOHO Small-Medium Sized Business Universities Utilities wISP
Voice :: Voice


November 2010 | October 2010 | September 2010 | August 2010 | July 2010 | June 2010 | May 2010 | April 2010 | March 2010 | February 2010 | January 2010 | December 2009 | November 2009 | October 2009 | September 2009 | August 2009 | July 2009 | June 2009 | May 2009 | April 2009 | March 2009 | February 2009 | January 2009 | December 2008 | November 2008 | October 2008 | September 2008 | August 2008 | July 2008 | June 2008 | May 2008 | April 2008 | March 2008 | February 2008 | January 2008 | December 2007 | November 2007 | October 2007 | September 2007 | August 2007 | July 2007 | June 2007 | May 2007 | April 2007 | March 2007 | February 2007 | January 2007 | December 2006 | November 2006 | October 2006 | September 2006 | August 2006 | July 2006 | June 2006 | May 2006 | April 2006 | March 2006 | February 2006 | January 2006 | December 2005 | November 2005 | October 2005 | September 2005 | August 2005 | July 2005 | June 2005 | May 2005 | April 2005 | March 2005 | February 2005 | January 2005 | December 2004 | November 2004 | October 2004 | September 2004 | August 2004 | July 2004 | June 2004 | May 2004 | April 2004 | March 2004 | February 2004 | January 2004 | December 2003 | November 2003 | October 2003 | September 2003 | August 2003 | July 2003 | June 2003 | May 2003 | April 2003 | March 2003 | February 2003 | January 2003 | December 2002 | November 2002 | October 2002 | September 2002 | August 2002 | July 2002 | June 2002 | May 2002 | April 2002 | March 2002 | February 2002 | January 2002 | December 2001 | November 2001 | October 2001 | September 2001 | August 2001 | July 2001 | June 2001 | May 2001 | April 2001 |

Recent Entries

In-Flight Wi-Fi and In-Flight Bombs
Can WPA Protect against Firesheep on Same Network?
Southwest Sets In-Flight Wi-Fi at $5
Eye-Fi Adds a View for Web Access
Firesheep Makes Sidejacking Easy
Wi-Fi Direct Certification Starts
Decaf on the Starbucks Digital Network
Google Did Snag Passwords
WiMax and LTE Not Technically 4G by ITU Standards
AT&T Wi-Fi Connections Keep High Growth with Free Service

Site Philosophy

This site operates as an independent editorial operation. Advertising, sponsorships, and other non-editorial materials represent the opinions and messages of their respective origins, and not of the site operator. Part of the FM Tech advertising network.


Entire site and all contents except otherwise noted © Copyright 2001-2010 by Glenn Fleishman. Some images ©2006 Jupiterimages Corporation. All rights reserved. Please contact us for reprint rights. Linking is, of course, free and encouraged.

Powered by
Movable Type

« UK's Grand Central Railways Picks Icomera for Wi-Fi | Main | Tesla Smiles »

June 7, 2007

Meraki Details Outdoor Repeater, Solar Charger

Meraki's recently announced outdoor repeater with optional solar/battery power could transform grassroots networks: Meraki has established itself as the cheapest provider of hardware and back-end controller support for mesh networking. With its $50 indoor nodes and new $100 outdoor repeater (shipping in July), the firm is making good use of its $5m in investment from Google and Sequoia Capital.

In an interview this week with co-founder and chief executive Sanjit Biswas, I discovered that despite the low cost, Meraki is "actually able to seel these devices at a small profit," Biswas said. The insides of a Meraki router are pure commodity, rather close to what's found in an inexpensive Linksys, he said. "We spent a lot of time studying the economies of scale opened up by them."

Meraki-Solar Biswas noted that he and his co-founders were graduate students for the five years prior to starting Meraki, and had to hack small, cheap gear by necessity. In the process, they put the software intelligence--the controlling part of the network--into remote servers, leaving individual devices to act as relatively low-powered nodes in a network that would self-form as it grew.

The new outdoor repeater is designed to allow those network to expand even further. With a built-in antenna that offers higher gain than their indoor node, they expect a range of several hundred feet. Optional higher-gain antennas can be installed, too. "Really what we're doing is saying, hey, we're a software company; if you want to tinker with the hardware and pick up some long-distance antennas, then we're all for it," Biswas said. Some customers have already set up 10 to 12 km links with the pre-release versions of the repeater.

The Meraki Outdoor has two 10/100 Mbps Ethernet ports to allow local networks to be tied in or to run back-to-back repeaters with highly directional antennas. For now, each device has a single radio, but Meraki--like virtually all wireless LAN and mesh/metro firms--uses Atheros chips, and Atheros recently announced their roadmap with a reference design for an access point with two separate radios.

Meraki's outdoor devices are highly ruggedized, Biswas noted. "We designed the outdoor to survive anything from a monsoon to a scandinavian winter--pretty robust conditions." Meraki's equipment is already used in 1,000 networks around the world, and there's already a need for the outdoor product to spread coverage from the inside out, as Biswas explained.

The firm developed its own custom routing protocol that builds on top of the 802.11 set of standards. This allows each node to receive and send normal Wi-Fi traffic while also transferring control information. Their mesh routing system optimizes to reduce interference rather than for the highest thorughput. "People in general using Internet access only use tens to hundreds of kilobits per second when you average it out," Biswas said in the kinds of installations their gear is used in. Groups of mesh nodes can switch channels to improve network quality or increase throughput, however.

The intelligence of the system lies in Meraki's servers--these servers provide controller features that can cost thousands of dollars with other mesh or large-scale networks on top of the higher cost of each node. Even Ruckus's recently announced small-to-medium-sized business networking equipment requires a controller that starts at $1,200 for a small number of access points. (Ruckus is focusing on throughput and signal efficiency, however, for ensuring the best quality of service with streaming, voice, and overall data transfer.)

While the mesh nodes exchange information about path efficiency, Meraki's servers handle auto-discovery, collect statistics, and provide remote management. This means that any cluster of Meraki nodes--any group of nodes on a unique channel--must have its own backhaul. But because the system is self reconfiguring, no network will accidentally sever itself by losing an Internet feed on a segment.

Each Meraki network becomes its own cloud of access with unique private addresses assigned persistently to devices that join the network. This allows someone to roam from node to node, and it also allows multiple injection points--nodes connected to an Internet feed--to allow aggregating of bandwidth. Each TCP/IP connection can be routed the most efficient way through the network. The system can also packet-shape and throttle, allowing each node to control how much of its bandwidth is used by the Meraki network. That's a critical factor when shared DSL or other connections are being tied into a network.

The outdoor repeater includes power over Ethernet (PoE) as a standard feature, including the necessary adapter. This can allow an Ethernet cable to be used to provide juice to an outdoor node that's not sited near an electrical outlet. Using electricity outdoors or on rooftops is always a tricky civic code issue, too, making PoE a better choice.

The solar charger/battery combination that will be offered for the outdoor repeater should allow use in places where electricity and Ethernet just isn't an option, whether on a condo rooftop, on a savannah, or in a park. Biswas said that they were fortunate to have on their team the right combination of engineers to slice the cost of the device down to roughly $400 from $1,000. The final price hasn't been set. "This is almost a hobby project we had running internally," Biswas said.

Solar panels are actually in short supply, driving up the cost. Through use of a custom charge controller built in house, Biswas said they cut the panel size to a third of their initial requirements. They also built Ethernet into the controller, allowing it to handle reporting of a range of statistics back to their servers. This will allow network operators to pull useful details about the panel and its battery without making a remote visit.

The batteries are lead-acid, which have a number of downside compared to lithium-ion, but which are relatively cheap and available worldwide in the right format to be replaced out on site without expensive international shipments of custom items. "We're able to use batteries that are used in security systems around the world," Biswas said.

With a battery-operated Meraki Outdoor node being recharged by solar panels, network builders of all stripes are freed from a grid requirement. Biswas said that their work on a growing free network in San Francisco led them to see this as a developed-world problem, not just a developing-world one. His customers "want us to deploy larger and larger networks; they were having trouble with the power because it's a sticking point. People would get hung up on, hey, I'm putting a power outlet on your roof," he said.

(The San Francisco network has seen over 3,000 users during its operation iwth about 250 to 300 users on during peak periods. It covers about a square mile, and it's let the company get their hands dirty, Biswas said.)

Their new outdoor product may be the biggest challenge yet to the more expensive--but more robust--nodes sold for thousands of dollars by metro-scale equipment makers like Tropos and SkyPilot. Biswas said that they weren't attempting to challenge these firms in the municipal market yet, as they have no public-safety offering, and don't view their equipment as resilient enough for that yet. Tropos, he noted, offers bullet-proof casings for their nodes. "They're hooking them up to cameras and people do shoot at these things."

For now, Meraki's early customers are entirely through word of mouth. The firm has no sales department, and continues to devote most of its efforts to extending its product line, and getting nodes into the field. I see remarkable potential for small networks to be built easily by neighborhood groups, community organizations, and business associations--and then later linked up with either more Meraki equipment or higher-end metro-scale gear.

Whatever the case, Meraki has broken the price barrier and dropped the complexity bar. Will a million neighborhood networks bloom?

1 Comment

This is perfect for remote locations, or situations where having a qualified electrician install power would cost as much as the solar kit. I'd like to test a few of these units for the community wireless network we're deploying in the Dallas / Ft. Worth, TX area called DFWFreeNet - By generating your own power for the Meraki node, you're really only borrowing rooftop space to host it, which property owners should appreciate.