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Plug-and-surf Wi-Fi module and solar-powered access point on tap from Meraki

Meraki Wi-Fi products promise to make wireless networking easier

By , Network World
November 20, 2008 10:54 AM ET

Network World - Meraki has unveiled two products -- one that fits into a electrical wall outlet, the other that runs without relying on an electrical grid at all -- that make it even simpler to deploy its Wi-Fi mesh network. It also unveiled a promotional package to encourage fast, low-cost deployment of Meraki wireless networks in apartment complexes, hotels and similar multitenant sites.

The San Francisco-based vendor is using radio technology developed by its co-founders in a MIT wireless research project called Roofnet, the goal of which is to create a highly reliable Wi-Fi network with optimal throughput.

One Meraki node connects to a DSL connection, creating a gateway. Other devices then interconnect automatically, creating a reliable mesh and letting a wireless clients share one Internet connection. Users providing a gateway can administer the network via a Web-based dashboard, which draws on real-time data from Meraki's back-end data centers; those handle QoS, control and security services, premium service levels, and billing and customer service.

The Meraki Wall Plug is an access point that looks like a stubby box, 4 inches by 2.5 inches by 2.5 inches, and weighs a half-pound. It plugs into a wall outlet without any equipment, including antennas, having to be mounted or positioned. It comes with a mounting bracket so it can be screwed into the outlet housing, to deter theft and prevent it being accidentally disconnected.

The Wall Plug's 2.4GHz 802.11b/g radio sets itself up as an Internet gateway if the upstream Ethernet port detects an Internet connection, or a repeater if it detects other Meraki radios in the area. It also sets itself up as a standard 11b/g access point for wireless client devices. There is no separate controller. In effect, Meraki moves the wireless LAN controller functions into its own data centers.

The existing Meraki Indoor product is a small box that connects via power cord to an outlet, and supports the Meraki wireless mesh protocol. The new Wall Plug, available now, is priced at $179 compared with $149 for Meraki Indoor.

Wall Plug is designed for fast deployments. Several beta sites created their Meraki WLANs -- covering an apartment complex, for example -- in less than an hour, according to Sanjit Biswas, Meraki CEO and co-founder.

The second new product is Meraki Solar, expected to be released in December. Development took about a year. The goal was to create a solar-powered, outdoor Meraki node, coupled with a lithium iron phosphate battery to store power. (The same kind of battery is one of the power options in the One Laptop Per Child project.) Its virtues include fast recharging, high power density (so it can be run longer with no trickle charge from the solar panels) and greater safety.

The combination of solar and battery eliminates the need for an electrical infrastructure and reduces deployment costs because costly electrical conduits don't have to be run. The unit weighs two pounds, so one person can carry it up a ladder to install it. Its price will be $799 to $1,499, depending on the size of the solar panels, which vary depending on one's location.

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