Meraki Cooks Up Wireless Mesh Router

Open Source software might not be as visible in the telecom world, but its impact is slowly but surely being felt. A series of projects are tackling complicated products such as high-end switches, while others are cooking up DNS, Firewall and VPN gear. In fact start-ups such as Vyatta and Digium have based their entire business model on open source software. Add another name to the movement investing in open platforms.

Meraki Networks, a Mountain View, Calif.-based startup is building a business off of hardware and software based on MIT’s Roofnet project. The Roofnet Project was previously funded by MIT’s Project Oxygen and NTT DoCoMo. Meraki also consults on mesh-networking related issues for the fabled $100 laptop prototype project. The first offering from the company will likely hit the shelves this fall, and is called the Meraki Mini, which is a $49 wireless 802.11b/g router that allows users to build a wireless mesh network or extend the range of a municipal network.

Sanjit Biswas, the company’s co-founder, and MIT student on-leave, hopes the low-cost hardware will cause a wave in the mesh networking industry, and the company is working on beta-testing this summer. The hardware uses an open platform and the company is encouraging users to tinker around and install their own software. Though, Biswas says the router isn’t completely open source and part of the software is closed.

Biswas says that Meraki’s goal is to enable a grassroots movement of small wireless ISPs by providing them everything they need to get started. “Hardware (the Meraki Mini) is part of the story, but we also have the mature mesh routing software and hosted billing/user management tools operators will need to run a production network. We let the operators set the pricing and also brand their service.” What if software from Meraki ends up in a FON router? That could open up some interesting possibilities.

Still, Meraki might be one of those startups that is in the right place at the right time. As more cities and companies show interest in muni wireless, wireless networks with open platforms are starting to gain traction. Earlier this month we covered Sascha Meinrath’s NSF grant for his open source wireless mesh project. Earlier this week the Mayor of Boston unveiled plans to bring low-cost metro WiFi access through a non-profit foundation.