Meraki Saves San Francisco's City-wide Wi-Fi Project

by Ash Dyer

MIT spin-out Meraki Networks has made a huge impact on the wireless community networking space through their bargain-basement open source-based wireless mesh network products. An out-growth of MIT's Roofnet project, which provided wireless access to over 1.5 square miles of Cambridge in 2004 and 2005, Meraki's network covering 1.5 square miles in San Francisco's Mission District is now San Francisco's best chance at getting a city-wide network in the face of recent political challenges.

The network will cost only about $15,000 and relies on the grassroots volunteerism that have made both MIT Roofnet and Meraki such successes. Over 300 people have already volunteered to host nodes as part of the "Free the Net" campaign, many of whom are also volunteering their DSL connections or allowing Meraki to install DSL connections. Some CLECs, such as Speakeasy and Sonic.net, have SLAs that allow subscribers to provide free or resold Internet access, which enables Meraki to use advertising to support the network's operating costs.

Check out their progress at sf.meraki.net. A recent one-month pilot using three Meraki nodes in Cambridge's Harvard Square netted over 700 unique users, and the San Francisco network already has over 2,000 unique users despite being only about half completed. The Free the Net project questions the current paradigm of big telco buildouts using enterprise-grade equipment promoted by industry giants such as Earthlink and AT&T. Given Earthlink's recently announced first quarter financial losses, questioning the current models for city-wide wireless Internet seems like a good idea, although the jury's still out on whether this new model will succeed.

2 Comments

DFWFreeNet
2007-05-24 13:27:52
I believe this model of organic network roll-out will succeed. I agree it doesn't make much sense for large companies and cities to deploy enterprise grade (and enterprise priced) equipment, where the end user probably isn't paying for service and doesn't expect enterprise levels of service. Similar to the "Free the Net" community wireless project in San Francisco, a similar project is underway in the Dallas / Ft. Worth, TX area called DFWFreeNet - http://www.dfwfreenet.org
Mike
2007-10-28 19:55:16
This will work, having a lot of small mesh routers is the way to go - MetroFi put Wifi here in Portland Oregon, and its a big mess - the politicians rave about how great it is, but hardly anyone can use it - they keep telling us "soon" and "you need an outside antenna"