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Summary:

Netequality, a Portland, Oregon-based not-for-profit organization that provides free internet access for low-income communities has hacked together a plug-n-play version of Meraki’s wireless mesh router, that can be plugged right into a power socket, for easy set-up. The wall-plug version is simply a Meraki Mini in […]

wallplug.pngNetequality, a Portland, Oregon-based not-for-profit organization that provides free internet access for low-income communities has hacked together a plug-n-play version of Meraki’s wireless mesh router, that can be plugged right into a power socket, for easy set-up. The wall-plug version is simply a Meraki Mini in a different case – it uses the Meraki Mini PCB – but optimized for ease of use and for easier installation in apartments and other unsecure public locations.

The device that is sold for $79 just went on sale, says Michael Burmeister-Brown, one of the two co-founders of NetEquality. A serial entreprenuer who has sold some of his previous start-ups to the likes of Symantec and Yahoo, says that idea behind the Meraki Mini Repeater in a Wall Plug Enclosure is to ensure an easy set-up, and take away some of the complexity that is typically associated with Wi-Fi. “We are ensuring that the whole thing is pretty simple.”

Burmeister-Brown, who spent nearly five years at Yahoo explains that in low income communities, a single DSL connection can be plugged into a Meraki router, and then one wall plug unit is needed every four homes. At present Netequality has built and deployed networks in six communities, with 6-to-150 units.

Meraki, is a Mountain View, Calif.-based mesh router maker that is backed by Sequoia Capital and Google. The company has developed an ultra lowcost wifi mesh networking router and is currently rolling out a square mile wide test network in San Francisco. (Our previous Meraki coverage.)

While the wall plug hack is unofficial, Burmeister-Brown told us that the folks at Meraki are aware of their twist on the basic Meraki router. In an email, Burmeister-Brown wrote:

we are very close to Meraki – we placed an order for 2,000 originally to help launch the company and we are authorized resellers (see their partners page). I have been working with Sanjit [Biswas, CEO of Meraki] since long before Meraki on the roofnet project while he was at MIT…..

  1. So–HomePlug or some kind of powerline networking is embedded? The location of most power outlets would be inappropriate to add wireless repeaters, but would make sense with powerline.

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  2. Glenn,

    they have basically put the powersupply and the router etc into one single repeater unit that is simply plugged right into the wall socket. i don’t think there is powerline or anything else in place – not sure if that is on cards though.

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  3. It is WI-FI, not powerline. While you might think that the power plug location isn’t ideal for Wireless, it actually works quite well. The beauty of the Meraki Mini is that it is inexpensive and can be deployed densely (1 Meraki mini per 4 apartments). We build networks all indoors sharing a single DSL connection with up to 50 apartments with all repeaters simply plugged into wall outlets. The net cost is less than $20 per apartment. See http://www.netequality.org and http://www.meraki.net for more info. As a non-profit providing wireless for low-income housing, we are are very pleased that someone has built such a perfect solution. Thank you Meraki!

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  4. gLOBALDOMINATION INEVITABLE Sunday, March 18, 2007

    don’t forget to patent the light-socket version for all of the parents out there!

    great product. i miss portland.

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  5. Whoa, is this for real? I’m guessing there has to be a broadband line/modem connected to the plug. I’d like to see a full set up of this device, but from the sound of it, I want one for myself. It’s a space saver, too it seems. You just have to plug it onto an outlet and it works, right? I can’t believe it’s a non-profit organization that came up with this idea. WiFi Internet for all!

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  6. Vic,

    No, the non-profit didn’t come up with this. Meraki did, check out meraki.net. The non-profit just reboxed the router in a different type of case. So basically you’re paying an extra $30 for a simpler looking case, there is no additional functionality.

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  7. Meraki seems to have thought of everything here. The fact that they include a “dashboard” that enables you to monitor and even monetize the network is incredible! This is the perfect solution for a neighborhood of fairly close-knit houses, in which you could open up your (personal) network and set up limits or low-cost daily/monthly fees. This has so much potential it is mindboggling.

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  8. Is the Apple Airport Express’s repeater functions similar to the Meraki?

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  9. So this is an unsupported hack for something I could do with an Apple Airport Extreme Basestation and a bunch of Airport Expresses?

    I mean, http://www.apple.com/airportexpress/, that is as simple as plugging into a wall and with an Airport Extreme Base station I don’t need to run ANY wires into it either AND it is supported. Of course, $99 vs. $79 does add up when you order 2,000, PLUS the base stations for the actual line to connect to, but the concept isn’t new.

    I certainly find it WAY easier to setup a wireless network with an Airport Express and so has my 55 year old Dad who gave up on the idea until I gave him one to try.

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  10. [...] an organization called Netequality is working to provide access using a different approach. Today GigaOM has a report ( Really Plug and play WiFi ) about the marketing of low cost routers and repeaters [...]

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  11. Nice idea, talk about being plug and play… I think for this type of system to be adopted it has to be simple and they have done a wonderful job in that department.

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  12. Jesse Kopelman Monday, March 19, 2007

    David, 2 differences between Meraki and Airport Express/Airport Extreme are support for mesh routing and better scalability. You could build a network of thousands of Meraki nodes and still manage them relatively simply. It would be very hard to do that with Airport Express/Extreme. Despite the low hardware cost, Meraki is a solution aimed at network operators, not consumers.

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  13. does mesh routing amplify the wifi signal with each new node?

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  14. Thanks for the clarification Jesse, that definitely gives me a better perspective on why this is such a big deal. Looking forward to how it plays out.

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  15. Netequality’s wall plug Meraki is a great solution to public installations, such as hotels or apartment complexes. A torx screw is included so you can secure the Meraki to the center screw on the outlet. Only about every tenth Meraki needs to be plugged into an Internet connection (provided all 10 are within 3 or 4 hops of the gateway) which can cover a good sized area if the gateway Meraki is at the center.

    This isn’t an unsupported hack, Meraki will still support these devices since they are exactly the same, just in a different case. It really can’t get much easier to set up a wireless mesh network with Meraki’s. Once the initial configuration is set in the Meraki dashboard (done online, has a simple wizard) you just plug them in. Attach every tenth Meraki to an Internet connection.

    I’m working on a community wireless network project in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area called DFWFreeNet – http://www.dfwfreenet.org We’re deploying Meraki Mini’s in outdoor enclosures with high gain antennas to increase range. We have a few sites up now and are always looking for individuals interested in community wireless networking to help build the network.

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  16. [...] providing low cost broadband internet to low income communities (see blog post about him in GigaOM) focusing on a “Meraki Mini PCB optimized for ease of use and for easier installation in [...]

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