Google Invests in Meraki

We’ve written a few times about the startup Meraki Networks, which is building a business off of wireless mesh hardware and software based on the MIT’s Roofnet project. Google has been very interested in the Mountain View-based startup as a way to extend its WiFi network coverage indoors. Now Meraki’s co-founder Sanjit Biswas tells us that the company completed a bridge round of funding last week, which included Google and “a few Silicon Valley angels.”

Biswas wouldn’t specify the amount but said the round was under a million dollars. “We’d bootstrapped the company so far, so this cash is really just for growth/acceleration . . .and for the development of some products we plan to launch next year,” says Biswas. The company currently sells a $49 wireless 802.11b/g router (that’s the beta price, see below) that allows users to build a wireless mesh network or extend the range of a municipal network.

Previously Biswas told us that Google had entered into a vendor/contractor relationship with Meraki. At a San Francisco WiFi community meeting Google showed off a Meraki router as a good, inexpensive way for residents to extend San Francisco’s planned city-wide WiFi network indoors. But it’s also somewhat rare for Google to invest (and not just acquire) startups. It seems like when it comes to alternative ways to extend broadband coverage, Google is willing to play investor — the company also previously invested in broadband over powerline company Current Communications.

Google’s Chris Sacca told us last month that Google was partly interested in Meraki to help the company keep its products running on an open platform. Meraki’s current product, the Meraki Minis, use an open platform and the company is encouraging users to tinker around and install their own software. But Biswas says the router isn’t completely open source and part of the software is closed. Meraki is trying to commercialize the work they did at MIT, while also trying to stay true to their open-source background — i.e. have a decent business model, but keep it as open as they can.

Meraki says their goal is to enable a grassroots movement of small wireless ISPs by providing them everything they need to get started. Those goals match to what Google has been stating about their plans for their WiFi networks — deliver wireless broadband for cheap and outside the confines of the current telco/cable industries.

Update: Meraki has been listing its routers for $49 while the company is in beta, but Biswas says the final price will likely be somewhere under $100. “Our goal is to make Meraki routers as widespread as possible, which means leaving room for reseller and
retail margins, so we have to raise the price post-beta.”