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Meraki Unwires SF's Neediest

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Even if San Francisco’s high-profile, city-wide Wi-Fi network with EarthLink and Google was a fundamental flop, residents of the city that need it the most could still get some free wireless broadband. Meraki Networks, a San Francisco-based startup that makes mesh networking gear is building an ad-hoc San Francisco Wi-Fi network called “Free the Net.” At a press conference on Wednesday, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom and Meraki CEO Sanjit Biswas plan to announce a project that includes Meraki’s Wi-Fi networks throughout San Francisco’s affordable housing communities.

We’re not sure the extent of Newsom’s announcement, but supporting Meraki is the least the mayor can do after the previously botched San Francisco Wi-Fi network. And in any case, Meraki is actually footing the bill for the entire ad-hoc free Wi-Fi network, including the affordable housing section. Biswas says the cost of the entire network is in the low several millions.

Biswas says Meraki will set up its system of Wi-Fi repeaters and Internet broadband access in “all” of the low-income housing communities in San Francisco, including the Altamont Hotel, where Newsom and Biswas will make the announcement. This is the latest part of the company’s “Free the Net” project and Biswas tells us that the company will have access points in every neighborhood in the entire city by the end of the year.

In the past, EarthLink and Google were both linked to a Wi-Fi effort in San Francisco that really didn’t go anywhere due to political roadblocks. Both companies have backed away from their MuniFi efforts.

Google, however, was one of those who invested in the seed round Meraki raised in November 2006. The mesh gear maker raised $20 million in a Series B round from Sequoia Capital, DAG Ventures and Northgate Capital back in January. Meraki could also be taking a page from Google when it comes to testing out ad-serving to support a free network. Biswas tells us that the company has tested out some contextual ads over the network.

City-wide Wi-Fi networks have been proving to not be viable in many cities and communities, but Meraki’s type of very low-cost, ad-hoc networks seems to be best suited for the technology. For just a few million, a company like Meraki can slowly add localized Wi-Fi hotspots in communities that actively want and will use the technology. Newsom certainly wants to work with the company to close San Francisco’s digital divide. We’ll check out the press conference later today and snap some pics of the mayor’s do — and the unwiring festivities.

10 Responses to “Meraki Unwires SF's Neediest”

  1. I think Freethenet is sabotaging my connection

    Don’t get me wrong, I totally support Freethenet’s goals. But I’ve discovered your service wrest’s my wifi connection from where I’m hanging out (Church Street Coffeehouse, SF). The wifi I connect with is very robust (Church St Cafe), then all of a sudden a window pops up, tells me I’m now connected to Freethenet.

    All well and good, but your signal is so weak, it’s useless. I have to manually reconnect to “Church St Cafe”…until the next time Freethenet interferes. So I set up my wifi to not automatically connect to Freethenet. However, my connection is drastically slowed down anyway…and I mean SLOW…like, 4-20 kbps!

    As long as Freethenet is in my air space, my connection is slowed down drastically, even though my wifi settings claim I’m still connected via Church St Cafe.

    Whatever you’re doing, you’re not making any friends. Please find a way to stop this sabotage of people’s connections! It’s very irritating, and bad for business for the owner of that coffeehouse!

    • Followup

      I’ve narrowed things down:

      Problem only occurs when I’m running my Linux OS (Ubuntu 8.10). When I reboot into Windows XP, I can browse the web w/o intrustion from Freethenet. I use Linux everywhere else at public wifi, w/o any problem whatsoever (of course, they are places where Freethenet does not reach). Even at Church Street Cafe, I was connecting just fine in Linux…until Freethenet began showing up.

      I’m guessing that Freethenet is limiting its wifi to Windows-only (for whatever reason). If Freethenet does not clear up this problem, I’ll be forced to eliminate those public wifi’s within its range…which may some day soon, include the entire bay area!

      PS: Church Street Cafe uses Comcast service, if this matters.

  2. A few of us in other parts of the world are discussing Mesh networking with Meraki’s and Open-Mesh at Join us to exchange technical/non technical idea’s on Mesh networking! :)

    If you are using a Meraki word of advice, remove the standard antenna it ships with and get a better one. You’ll get a far better range and be able to freethenet to a far greater audience than ith the standard antenna.

  3. BSNL has decided to launch its Data Services on CDMA 2000 IX by using BSNL Internet Connect Card (ICC). The CDMA IX ICC will provide Internet Service @144kbps to computer users on their laptops as well as on desktops. This service will be available in all those locations wherever CDMA IX MSC based coverage is there. However, during roaming the said Internet connectivity will not work at present. The following two types of data Cards will be available for BSNL customers:

    (A) Network Interface Card (NIC) : For internet speed up to 144 Kbps.

    (B) EVDO Card : Internet speed up to 2.4 Mbps*

  4. Mark Billings

    Great – so Meraki is going to facilitate further theft of services from ISPs of people who “volunteer” to violate their connection terms of service?

  5. It wasn’t Newsome who botched it. It was the cadre of hyper-political loonies who gum everything up. It would have been great to have Google serving up a free Wi-Fi dial tone.

    Also, do the folks in these new places even have computers?

  6. Nilanjan


    Talkimng about Meraki (and I had ready fro GigaOM first about Meraki) and just 2 days later when I visited Bar Harbor, Maine, at the hotel we were staying which had free wifi, I conncted to it and lo and hehold – it was advertised – powered by Meraki.

    So I see that Meraki is not ony limited to west coast but also seems to be in the east coast too.

    But sadly, the wifi signal in our rooms was too weak for any fruitful purpose. Dont knwo how the Meraki devices are supposed to act as repeaters but in this case it as a farily weak implementation and not really effective apart from the main hotel lobby.

    But nice to see its spread in usage though.

  7. rumblpak

    I’ve been hosting one of Meraki’s rooftop repeaters since March and found the signal works pretty well (over 800kbit/sec) most days but it’s still not fast enough to convince me to give up by cable connection. If they can make this network work well, I think Meraki could be even more distruptive than wimax in emerging markets like India where they don’t have broadband infrastructure.

    Stateside, maybe they’ll get Google to sponsor free WiFi in other cities with their system. The stats on their signup page at says they are near 100,000 users now, which is enough to turn some heads.