The Open-Mesh Revolution

Posted by Sam Churchill on

A year ago, the $50 Meraki WiFi repeater looked like a revolution — an ideal solution for bridging the digital divide. Then Meraki Jacked Up the Price and stripped the low cost unit of most of its features (FAQ). The standard edition now doesn’t allow billing, user authentication, access control or a custom splash page. You’ll have to pay $100 more per node for most of features that previously came “free”. Meraki is now pushing advertising via their Hosted Services.

It pissed off a lot of people.

Many organizations, such as Net Equality (now a part of One Economy), utilized Meraki to provide cheap or free internet access for low income housing. They were left twisting in the wind by Meraki’s change of direction.

Enter Michael Burmeister-Brown, the co-founder of NetEquality and the developer of the Dashboard Software that made managing dozens, even hundreds, of Meraki repeaters fast, easy and cost/effective.

Today Michael Burmeister-Brown announced a new product and company designed to fill the void left by Meraki — Open-Mesh.

Open-Mesh does everything the original Meraki did — and more:

  • It’s inexpensive. Open-Mesh WiFi repeaters cost $49 each or $39.95 (qty 20)
  • It’s Ad free. Open-Mesh promises they will never push ads into your networks. You decide what, if any, content you want to display.
  • It’s 100% open source and deployed on top of OpenWRT. You can change anything.
  • You can re-flash the firmware if you want.
  • The Dashboard management system provides free administration, alerting and mapping. It allows you to configure the ESSID, splash page, passwords, and Bandwith allocation of your networks.
  • The devices auto-configure. It’s simple to create a neighborhood or apartment network. You don’t need to use their management system if you don’t want to.

Unlike Meraki and FON, their architecture is 100% open source. You can re-flash the firmware if you want. Put up a new splash page. Use their free management software (below) — or not.

The small mini-routers ($49) come pre-flashed with ROBIN open-source mesh firmware. It is ready to plug in and use. No configuration necessary.

You plug one into your DSL or other Internet connection and put additional mini-routers where you want Internet access to extend the WiFi range (each router should be within 100 feet of another router). They like Covad because they support WiFi sharing but other broadband providers can be used. Open-Mesh doesn’t have a business relationship with broadband providers

The router comes with a 2dbi antenna and Ethernet cable to connect to your DSL or computer. It uses the same Atheros chipset used in the Meraki.

ROBIN (ROuting Batman Inside) is an Open Source mesh network project, deployed on top of OpenWRT. It uses the BATMAN routing algorithm (Better Approach to Mobile Ad-hoc Networking) for multi-hop ad-hoc mesh networks.

What’s the business plan for Open-Mesh?

“We’re not trying to get rich”, said Michael Burmeister-Brown in a phone conversation with DailyWireless this morning. “We hope other companies and manufacturers will pick up on the open source ROBIN sofware and include it in their hardware”, explained Burmeister-Brown.

The mission of Open-Mesh is to support community wireless, education, and the developing world using open source WiFi mesh networking. Simple. Cheap. Ad free. Do it yourself.

Sweat equity. It may be an idea whose time has come.

Posted by Sam Churchill on Tuesday, March 11th, 2008 at 9:29 am .

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