Optical/IP Networks

More About Meraki

Wireless mesh startup Meraki Networks Inc. has confirmed it's gotten money from Google (Nasdaq: GOOG), among others, and that it's helping the search giant with its WiFi plans while preparing its own commercial release for next year.

Recently, Unstrung revealed that Mountain View, Calif.-based Meraki is working to improve indoor coverage for Google's WiFi mesh network in that city. Sanjit Biswas, Meraki's president and a founder, also confirmed that Google -- along with a few "silicon valley angels" -- has made a small investment in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) spin-off. (See Google Invests in Indoor Mesh.)

The search giant was a little more reticent but confirmed a link with Meraki. Sort of. "Meraki is one of a number of interesting companies working to make the Internet more available to end users and this is a mission in which Google deeply believes," a spokesperson said in an email reply to questions. "We are friends with anyone innovating to make the Internet more widely available to users."

Biswas says the work with Google is a "little different" from Meraki's standard offerings. The firm has configured its boxes so they can receive 802.11 mesh signals, as well as wired connections, from the outdoor Tropos Networks Inc. mesh networking kit in Mountain View and then extend connectivity around a user's home.

The Meraki boxes do this using software, which is why they're priced at $100 or less. The nodes don't use special antennas or radios to improve signal strength, just "off-the-shelf components," according to Hans Robertson, Meraki's chief operating officer.

The software uses efficient routing protocols and rate adaptation algorithms for mesh networks that evolved out of the work at MIT. "It's a brains-not-brawn approach," Robertson says.

Meraki's own products are intended to bring mesh to the masses with cheap nodes and easy management software. "We trying to make it really easy for anyone to set up and run a mesh network," says Robertson.

The company has had its products in beta testing for some months now with a "few hundred networks" worldwide. These range in size from just a few nodes up to a 100-node deployment built to cheaply unwire an apartment complex.

Meraki intends to go commercial with its first indoor products early next year. These will be followed with a range of outdoor offerings shortly afterward.

Meraki isn't the only company pursuing the somewhat egalitarian concept of deploying cheap mesh to boost Internet access in places that may not have been able to afford it before. Kiyon Inc. out of San Diego is pursuing a similar line with its products.

Meanwhile, Meshcom Technologies Inc. from Finland is attempting to propagate mesh technology by providing software that can make an everyday wireless laptop and other devices into a mesh node.

These startups could prove to be the second wave of mesh as users look to go beyond municipal mesh networks.

— Dan Jones, Site Editor, Unstrung

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