Thursday, July 12, 2007

Time To Mesh

We have wireless internet at the house and in the RV. I've been trying for years to find a better system that allows a good signal anywhere around the house, yard and RV. I also would like to have the ability to easily share my Internet connection with fellow campers when we're on the road. When I share, I want some access and bandwidth limitation controls though. I hadn't found a good system that provided a good signal let alone some control, until now.

I ordered a couple of Meraki Outdoor Repeaters Sunday and they arrived Monday afternoon. One of the things I really like is an appliance approach to technology. I just plugged it in and it worked immediately. I then logged in to it's dashboard and easily setup Id's, passwords, and features. Nice system.

Meraki isn't really a home router or access point product. They are trying to setup public Internet access using "mesh" networks. They're located in Mountain View a few miles from home here in Palo Alto. The goal is cheap ubiquitous Internet access. Google is evidently assisting them get started.
I installed a repeater on the roof. It is connected to our DSL Internet connection. The range should be 100-700 feet in radius depending on obstructions. That's been one of the problems. Our house seems to be a very efficient radio shield. Since the device is rated for outdoor installation and is on the roof, the signal is quite good anywhere in the house since the roof doesn't shield the radio waves like the wire lath in the stucco walls does. Also since it is up there, coverage is good in the front and back yards as well.
I also installed a second repeater in the RV and linked it to the home network. When I'm home, I don't need to use the Hughes Satellite Internet dish on the RV but do like to use the RV as a quiet office occasionally. The Meraki repeaters talk to each other and connect into a mesh network. The unit in the RV can get to the Internet via the repeater in the house when parked at home. It can provide wireless connections using the Hughes Satellite Internet connection when on the road. Also, it can provide connections to other campers for free or for fee which can easily be setup or changed as needed using the dashboard. It takes a minute or so for the change to be effective.
It also has the capability to provide both a private wireless system and the public access at the same time or can have a white list of for free access users while providing fee access to others.
The result will hopefully be a better system providing more features with easier control.

One other neat thing is that expanding the mesh network is quite easy and cheap. Meraki Mini repeaters cost $49. The outdoor versions ($99) are basically the same but in a weatherproof housing with the power provided over the cat5 cable. If this works out, I'll probably add another at Dawn's apartment in San Jose. When the RV is parked there it could mesh with it and have a connection. Also, I could carry a spare to loan out at RV rallys or gatherings to increase the range to assist fellow campers to get their email.

Now, to try to reduce the costs of Internet access. Maybe some neighbors could utilize the system and just a couple could pay the telephone company moguls. Or, maybe I can convince a neighbor to install a repeater and I could use their connection and eliminate my copper telephone/DSL connection completely. We currently use Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) as our home phone. The only reason for the copper connection is to have a fast Internet connection (the DSL). Even if neither cost reducing advantage materializes The things are still great for my own WiFi access, better than anything previously tried like router/access points from Linksys, D-link, Netgear, and Belkin.

I've set the system up to provide for fee access here at home with my own laptop set on the white list. The thinks have been working out as expected and perform quite well.

Since I don't have a lot of experience with these yet and none on the road, this posting may be edited if my experience proves different than expected and as specification, features and tests indicate.

More information links:

Meraki  Site
Google and Meraki

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