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Meraki To Expand its WiFi Network Throughout San Francisco

sf_map_small.pngWhile San Francisco’s grand plans for a WiFi network backed by Google (GOOG) and Earthlink remains caught in the quicksand of local politics and unrealistic ambitions, a smaller, less ambitious effort that’s being spearheaded by Mountain View, Calif.-based Meraki, Free The Net, is gaining groundswell support.

The company, after experimenting with networks in two San Francisco neighborhoods – the Castro and Dolores Park — now plans to expand its WiFi network throughout the city.

The decision comes after the Meraki’s sign-up page started attracting residents of San Francisco neighborhoods including Noe Valley, Potrero Hill, Mission, the Lower Haight, Alamo Square and the Richmond District.

In the two neighborhoods in which Meraki’s network is currently operational, there are about 6,500 users and 200 volunteers who actively share bandwidth and have placed repeaters on their premises. The network, which covers roughly one square mile, cost Meraki around $50,000, including the cost of hardware and DSL gateways sprinkled throughout the region.

In order to cover some of the major neighborhoods in San Francisco, Meraki, which has raised about $5 million in funding from Sequoia Capital and Google, would need about 2000 volunteers. The network currently offers a throughput of between 500 kilobits per second to a megabit per second — good enough for YouTube.

When asked why seems to be getting traction, CEO and Cofounder Sanjit Biswas said, “I think a lot of it is our goals are different. We have started with modest goals, and the communities and neighborhoods are our goal. The costs are low and the buildouts are incremental.”

As we had pointed out yesterday, the grandiose goals and unmet expectations are the reason why a feeling of disillusionment has enveloped the MuniFi movement. Our regular reader and often contributor Jesse Kopelman said it best: “WiFi is really not the right technology for metro-sized networks.”

However, it is good enough technology for smaller networks that are community- or neighborhood-focused, as Meraki’s San Francisco network and the company’s other efforts demonstrate. The communal nature of these networks is why people continue to share bandwidth, even though Meraki is backing up the service with its own DSL-powered gateways.

So its about half-to-a-megabit per second of throughputs it is fast enough for you tube. We are funding the build out of the network. We are providing the hardware for free and DSL pipes as back-up.

Biswas explained that SF is a test bed, and the company makes money selling its gear around the world.

Meraki has been selling its wireless 802.11b/g access point and mesh repeater, the Meraki Mini, for $49 and claims its products are already being used by 2,000 networks in 40 countries. The company also lists an outdoor ruggedized version of its Meraki Mini for $99. Meraki’s business is being built off hardware and software based on MIT’s Roofnet project. The Roofnet Project was previously funded by MIT’s Project Oxygen and NTT DoCoMo.

Related News: Our previous Meraki coverage.

14 Responses to “Meraki To Expand its WiFi Network Throughout San Francisco”

  1. tenbaum, we’re still expanding Free the Net and will start distributing new repeaters again in December and January. We are still setting up the Internet gateway points for the other neighborhoods so please stay tuned — the sunset will not be forgotten!

    If there’s any chance of gaining line of sight to the other repeaters in the network, please send us an email. We can try sending you an outdoor repeater to see if you get a signal.

  2. Meraki may issue press releases about expanding coverage to all of San Francisco, but reality tells a different story. They pretty much stopped expanding SF coverage 3 months ago. From my correspondence with them, I don’t expect Meraki to provide my San Francisco neighborhood (Sunset) with free Wi-Fi this year or any year in the future.

  3. Jesse Kopelman

    Mark, Meraki’s in SF not to make money directly, but for the free publicity. People from a carrier background scoffed at these guys a year ago. Who was going to take a risk on them when you could buy Mesh from Cisco or Motorola? Now, maybe the idea isn’t so silly. This was pretty much the same thing Tropos did. I’m pretty sure they at best broke even on the early deployments their gear was used for.

  4. Jesse Kopelman

    MDH, when I say WiFi is not the proper technology for MAN my reasoning goes beyond technical issues. The real issue is price. Even at $50k/sqmi, WiFi in not cheap enough to compete with alternatives that either cost less per sqmi (WiMAX) or deliver massively higher throughput (cable or FTTP). Now when I say WiFi is not cheap enough, I’m not talking about equipment cost, I’m talking about the costs of acquiring thousands of AP locations and getting power and then the reoccurring costs of maintaining thousands of AP, rent, and power. From an NPV perspective, WiFi is not a good enough MAN technology. Same situation is BPL, really.

    Now I’m not saying that outdoor WiFi is never a good idea. It works great on campus environments where the network provider controls all the real estate. It can also work well in sub-MAN situations. If you can cherry pick neighborhoods, WiFi is great. Blanketing the entire city, though, not so much.

  5. I understand selling gear around the world. -That makes money.

    I still don’t see the business model where Meraki is profitable by giving away a monthly fixed cost of DSLs and radios to neigborhoods in SF.

    What is Meraki / Google’s the hidden agenda? Data mining?

  6. Sorry Om, quotes about how Wi-Fi is not a proper technology for metro-sized deployments are tiring and overused. Every engineer knows its not the IDEAL solution.

    However much beyond its intended use, Wi-Fi outdoors is here to stay, and the kinks will get resolved. Why? Because it is the wireless equivalent of Ethernet in terms of utility, economics and ubiquity. WiMAX may be better on paper… sure… but its competing against 1 billion pre-installed standards-based devices and more coming every day.

    Just like ATM was perhaps the better transport medium than Ethernet… Ethernet won, because it was fast, cheap, and had momentum in the market… just like Wi-Fi.

  7. Please don’t tell me that gigaom is going the way of gawker media and begun incestuous linking. If you hyperlink a company name or url, the user expects it will point to their website, NOT to previous coverage on gigaom!

    I have actually stopped reading gizmodo all together because of this seo-wanker move that elevates search traffic in lieu of usability for existing users.

    As a daily reader, please don’t make using this site more difficult. Thanks