A low-cost route to the Web
California start-up Meraki powers several thousand wireless networks across 70 countries, bringing the Internet to those who otherwise could never afford it.
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The information-sharing scheme has allowed one 400-apartment building in Portland to split five DSL lines across 100 Meraki nodes, Cannard says, dropping the cost of Web access to about $1 a month for each apartment.Skip to next paragraph
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Of course, there were a few kinks and quirks along the way. Cannard remembers "freaking out" last winter when several of his networks suddenly collapsed.
"Nodes were going down all over," he says. "It turned out that since we just plugged the boxes into normal outlets in each apartment, the residents decided they'd rather plug in their Christmas lights. But so many unplugged them that they were knocking out access to most of their neighbors as well." NetEquality now screws the boxes directly into outlets so that they can't be removed.
Meraki's grapevine growth
Now in its second year, Meraki has yet to advertise its services. Simple word-of-mouth has carried its name through the global geek grapevine.
Slovakian businessman Marcel Hecko recalls reading about Roofnet on the Internet a few years ago. Soon after Biswas formed his company, Mr. Hecko persuaded his colleagues that "we simply need to get as close to Meraki guys as possible."
When he returned to Slovakia, Hecko rolled out a two-pronged plan for Meraki routers: a nonprofit effort in his home city of Bratislava and a growing business that sells Meraki networks around the world.
Biswas has encouraged others to build their own businesses based on Meraki's network. "Nonprofit networks are crucial," he says. "But in some cases, turning it into a business plan is the best way to ensure the network is sustainable."
For example, Jim Bletas, head of WNI Global in San Jose, Calif., is currently negotiating with telecoms for a massive installation of Meraki nodes in poor areas of São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
"We want to have a million units" with Internet access by 2009, Mr. Bletas says. "And if it works in poor, urban areas, we'll be looking at rural networks next."