The December 2007 issue of “Popular Science” Announced their Computing Grand Award Winner was Meraki. Since I never heard of Meraki, and their wireless product sounded interesting, I figured I’d take a peek at their website.
Verrry interrresting. It turns out that Meraki is evangelizing wireless networking by, and for, the masses.
The Old Way
If you have been following this blog, you know that I went to several WiFi hotspots in Tracy, CA a few postings ago? Well, these WiFi hotspots are put together by one company be it McDonalds, Barnes & Noble, or Starbucks, etc. You have WiFi connectivity while in that establishment, but, as soon as you leave the near vicinity…you get nothing.
Meraki’s New Idea
Meraki is looking at things a bit differently.
They have developed relatively inexpensive wireless networking equipment or nodes (including a solar powered version, see the picture) that ANYONE can purchase, plug into their home network, and easily (NOTE: I have NOT tested this product so I do not know if it works or how easy it really is) join the network of other Meraki users.
This is known as Peer-to-Peer networking and, as it grows, it grows in a “mesh”. Basically, your node supports the greater goal of Internet connectivity for everyone (like the individual Borg). If your node goes down, your users are simply (ok, not so simply for the designer of the network, but, to the user it is) routed to another node in the “mesh” and they are good to go. Traffic is likewise routed thru the most efficient path to the Internet. Like taking Patterson Pass rather than 205 to get to work after an accident on 580.
A community, like Tracy, can build a “community network” one Meraki user at a time. For example, I can buy a Meraki and serve my neighborhood with wireless networking (like I can do now with my Linksys Wireless router). The difference with Meraki is that a neighbor 1 block away can also buy a Meraki node and join my initial network. That neighbor can now support users farther away (and more of them in total) than I could with my Linksys. As more and more users come on-line, eventually the entire City of Tracy can be one large wireless Internet node.
Make Sense? It’s like Legos….you just keep building and expanding.
Check out this map of the San Francisco network (or in the picture below) that is up and running now (again, I have not seen this or experienced it).
The networking units are fairly inexpensive and I see they support 802.11 b and g specifications (see my previous post on WiFi connectivity for an explanation), so your Laptop, iPhone, etc will work.
All we need is someone to start a network in Tracy, and few people with high speed Internet access to follow suit.
Remaining questions include: How secure is this network? Can hackers get in easier than the regular Internet (and then wreak havoc with the networked users)? Is my computer more vulnerable on this network? Who manages it when it grows to cover all of Tracy? Will students use it while in class? Does it support H.323 videoconferencing? Does it include firewalls? Can they be turned off? Oh, I’ll stop here, I’m sure I can list a few more…