WiFi goes green: solar-powered outdoor nodes coming soon
By Glenn Fleishman | Published: November 18, 2008 - 09:15PM CT
Mesh WiFi firm Meraki released an addition to its hardware family of routers today with a wall-plug adapter ($179). The Meraki Wall Plug, which features a hole to screw the unit to an outlet, complements the existing Indoor ($149) and Outdoor ($199) nodes. Meraki's hardware includes access to (and requires use of) a hosted back-end management console.
The Wall Plug is part of Meraki's push for apartment buildings and complexes (multiple dwelling units or MDUs, in real-estate parlance). The company said it will offer a $5,000 bundle aimed at MDUs that will cover 100 to 150 apartments or other units.
The company also said that their long-awaited Meraki Solar would ship December 4. A worldwide run on solar power equipment when oil prices spiked increased the price of the panel required for the unit. The price of the Solar model runs from $749 for a bring-your-own-panel model up to $1,499 for areas with shorter days or less light.
Company cofounder Sanjit Biswas said that Meraki also decided to change the battery type after receiving feedback from beta users, which is part of what led to the 1-year delay. In winter or monsoon season, the beta product "would run out of juice in a couple of days with no sun." Customers said that they needed guaranteed 24-hour performance, and Meraki switched from sealed lead-acid to lithium iron-phosphate for greater capacity. Biswas said this dropped the weight, too, which reduces shipping costs for the many remote areas that the Solar unit has been tested in and will likely be used.
Biswas said that Solar was used in a lot of places the firm didn't expect–anywhere that power wasn't available, such as parks, but also where even though an electrical outlet would be installed, there were ancillary costs.
Some customers would say, Biswas noted, "A union electrician is going to cost me a couple of thousand dollars." He said that many Meraki customers were "choosing to do Wi-Fi because it was a relatively low-impact amenity to offer," so the higher initial price of Solar was easily canceled out by lower installation and recurring costs.
Biswas said that Meraki continues to extend its market into areas it didn't predict, such as small enterprises: firms of 50 to 200 employees that cover large areas, such as doctors' offices or shopping malls, and that outsource their information technology services. "That's a surprise for us: it's not just about public access, sometimes it's just about plain Wi-Fi access, even internally," Biswas said.
The centralized management console is a plus for this segment because Meraki customers can manage accounts and operations themselves after a system is set up, or use an integrator for remote help. Biswas noted that the console and hardware now support enterprise features, including WPA2 Enterprise (802.1X plus WPA2), quality of service (for VoIP and streaming), and multiple SSIDs (for running several virtual networks with different access privileges). The system has scaled to manage thousands of devices on a single network, as well.
Meraki highlighted a customer installation in Chile, which they only found out about after the network lit up on their map showing active installations. In Lebu, a fishing village 300 km from Santiago, residents had no real Internet access, although there was both a satellite feed and an E1 (similar to a T1) leased line. A local integrator lit up the town for about $20,000 in less than a week, and the network now has over 1,000 regular users. Biswas said, "They're using all the same sites that you and I would use."
The city isn't charging for service, because it found "the collection costs would be too high," Biswas said. He noted, "We've seen this model replicated elsewhere in Latin America," where a feed is spread throughout a town, taking residents from no Internet access to low-end broadband. (Meraki allows bandwidth shaping for shared access.)