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The next big thing is any little thing.
The Next Big Thing

Meraki, the little WiFi mesh networking company that is enabling grassroots networks to be built by just about anyone, today announced two new products; the Meraki Wall Plug ($179), a low-power wall wart that enables quick deployment in large residential complexes, and the Meraki Solar ($799), a higher power outdoor radio which provides solar power for remote locations such as roof tops.

The Solar mesh repeater ($799) eliminates running power to remote installations. It combines the latest lithium iron phosphate batteries with a powerful 200 mW outdoor Wi-Fi radio. It’s energy independent but requires a solar panel (20 or 40 watts) — which is sold separately.

The Solar device, like other Meraki radios, is also integrated with Meraki Dashboard (product blog), enabling you to monitor and configure them remotely. Each Solar unit is completely self-contained and ready to mount on roofs, poles, or anywhere else the sun shines.

Meraki says people in southern climates (such as California) may get by with a 20 watt panel, while Northern climates (such as Oregon), would likely require a 40 watt panel.

The Meraki Wall Plug ($179) can be plugged directly into existing wall outlets (for power). One repeater can normally be shared by 3-4 apartments according to Sanjit Biswas, CEO and Co-Founder of Meraki. It has a 60mW (18dBm) 802.11 b/g radio with an internal 2dBi omni-directional antenna. It includes signal strength, power, and Ethernet LEDs.

Every Meraki device is 3 devices in one – gateway, repeater, and access point. One DSL connection can be shared by Meraki’s built-in, self-configuring mesh network.

Meraki’s new Residential WiFi Pack gives property managers and owners a fully-featured wireless solution. It can cover an average 100 unit residential apartment unit with WiFi for $5,000 — with a 60 day money back guarantee. Meraki says it can be deployed in hours not weeks and the company says it’s certified partner can handle the roll out.

Meraki hardware and software get good reviews. They have been praised for solid engineering, reliability, and user friendliness. But they are no longer the bargain they once were.

Open-Mesh does pretty much everything the Meraki does for less money — with open source software.

The small Open-Mesh mini-routers ($49) come pre-flashed with ROBIN open-source mesh firmware which 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). The router comes with a 2dbi antenna and Ethernet cable to connect to your DSL or computer and uses the same Atheros chipset used in the Meraki.

Both approaches to grass roots networking have their merits.

Meraki is more tightly controlled with proprietary features such as a simple yet flexible back-end management with complete enterprise-level support, scaling, branding and billing tools. In contrast, Open-Mesh lets you alter just about anything, re-flash the firmware, configure the ESSID, splash page, passwords, and bandwith allocation of your network.

Intel describes the requirements for a Solar-powered WiMAX base station (pdf), right.

A Ubiquiti RouterStation ($100) or Mark 2 Metrix Box ($600) consume roughly 1 amp at 12 Volts (12 Watts), so an Optima battery ($200) with 45 ah capacity, might power it for about 45 hours. An 80-100 watt panel ($500), putting out about 5 amps, should keep it charged with 4-5 hrs of sunlight a day.

A single $199 Meraki Wi-Fi repeater uses about 3.5 watts (pdf specs), so the cost can be lowered and batteries last longer. The $700-$800 additional cost of solar might be cheaper than running power to a rooftop (with proper electrical code).

Meraki may also be positioned to ride the wave on the next big thing — white spaces.

Related DailyWireless solar articles include; Cellular Power: Backup or Not?, Emergency Communications Applications, Sun Don’t Shine on Solar WiFi Town,Wireless River Monitoring, Solar Man, Solis Solar Powered Hotspots, Solar Powered WiMAX & WiFiMinneapolis Bridge Collapse & Emergency Communications, Minnesota Solar WiFi, Park City: Solar WiFi, Solar Powered Solstice, Webcasting Concerts, TurtleNet, Meshing Tibet and Solar RoofNet Wiki.

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