Meraki To Expand its WiFi Network Throughout San Francisco

sf_map_small.pngWhile San Francisco’s grand plans for a WiFi network backed by Google (GOOG) and Earthlink remains caught in the quicksand of local politics and unrealistic ambitions, a smaller, less ambitious effort that’s being spearheaded by Mountain View, Calif.-based Meraki, Free The Net, is gaining groundswell support.

The company, after experimenting with networks in two San Francisco neighborhoods – the Castro and Dolores Park — now plans to expand its WiFi network throughout the city.

The decision comes after the Meraki’s sign-up page started attracting residents of San Francisco neighborhoods including Noe Valley, Potrero Hill, Mission, the Lower Haight, Alamo Square and the Richmond District.

In the two neighborhoods in which Meraki’s network is currently operational, there are about 6,500 users and 200 volunteers who actively share bandwidth and have placed repeaters on their premises. The network, which covers roughly one square mile, cost Meraki around $50,000, including the cost of hardware and DSL gateways sprinkled throughout the region.

In order to cover some of the major neighborhoods in San Francisco, Meraki, which has raised about $5 million in funding from Sequoia Capital and Google, would need about 2000 volunteers. The network currently offers a throughput of between 500 kilobits per second to a megabit per second — good enough for YouTube.

When asked why seems to be getting traction, CEO and Cofounder Sanjit Biswas said, “I think a lot of it is our goals are different. We have started with modest goals, and the communities and neighborhoods are our goal. The costs are low and the buildouts are incremental.”

As we had pointed out yesterday, the grandiose goals and unmet expectations are the reason why a feeling of disillusionment has enveloped the MuniFi movement. Our regular reader and often contributor Jesse Kopelman said it best: “WiFi is really not the right technology for metro-sized networks.”

However, it is good enough technology for smaller networks that are community- or neighborhood-focused, as Meraki’s San Francisco network and the company’s other efforts demonstrate. The communal nature of these networks is why people continue to share bandwidth, even though Meraki is backing up the service with its own DSL-powered gateways.

So its about half-to-a-megabit per second of throughputs it is fast enough for you tube. We are funding the build out of the network. We are providing the hardware for free and DSL pipes as back-up.

Biswas explained that SF is a test bed, and the company makes money selling its gear around the world.

Meraki has been selling its wireless 802.11b/g access point and mesh repeater, the Meraki Mini, for $49 and claims its products are already being used by 2,000 networks in 40 countries. The company also lists an outdoor ruggedized version of its Meraki Mini for $99. Meraki’s business is being built off hardware and software based on MIT’s Roofnet project. The Roofnet Project was previously funded by MIT’s Project Oxygen and NTT DoCoMo.

Related News: Our previous Meraki coverage.