At the first community meeting for San Francisco WiFi earlier this week, Google fielded questions from vocal community advocates, but also showed off what kind of hardware users would likely need to access the planned free network. One of those devices was a WiFi router based on an open platform called the Meraki Mini, made by Mountain View-based startup Meraki, which we wrote about last August.
When we talked to Google’s Chris Sacca after the community meeting he said that Google funded Meraki a few months ago with an “open source development grant” to help the company keep parts of its technology open source, and to work with Google’s muni WiFi deployments. The Meraki Minis will cost around $50 each and can be used as a Google WiFi repeater, extending the coverage of GoogleFi into homes and offices. Because the platform is partly open source, developers can add and share software that runs over the Meraki mesh routing.
Sanjit Biswas, co-founder of Meraki, clarified the relationship between Google and Meraki, and said that the funding was more in terms of a vendor/contractor relationship and Google doesn’t currently have an equity stake in Meraki. The size of the funding was around that of two summer interns.
But a stronger relationship between the two companies might be a good move for both. Google’s muni WiFi isn’t very effective indoors and the company is in a position to suggest or even offer low cost hardware to its WiFi users. While everyone speculates on a Google cell phone, Google consumer WiFi hardware might be a better bet. Of course Meraki can go far with a little help from Google.