Free Wi-Fi makes people happy.

Map of wireless Meraki access points in San Francisco

Two fun pieces on free Wi-Fi.

First, a nicely written commentary on Wired suggests that you should unlock your wireless router! It’s not as crazy as it sounds.

Second, a well funded startup called Meraki claims it will create a free wireless network across San Francisco. A bit of digging reveals that Meraki manufactures inexpensive mesh networking devices. They usually charge for the devices, about 50 bucks each.

This time they’re giving them away for free in San Francisco if you live in an area where they need additional mesh coverage. All you have to do it plug it in or put it on your roof (it evidently works with solar power).

But here’s what I don’t understand:

  • Where is the backbone connection to the Internet? They’re building up a mesh network at no cost to the users, but who is willing to share their DSL or Cable Internet connection for free? Not nearly as many as are wiling to plug in a little box. But, maybe enough to get basic Internet coverage.
  • How will they make money? My guess: the basic Meraki service will be free. It is served by the backbone of volunteers that let people suckle on their DSL or Cable ISPs. But, Meraki will offer a higher-tier service with guaranteed faster throughput and greater reliability serviced directly by connections to a backbone that Meraki pays for. Just a guess.


Here’s the answer to question 2. It looks like Meraki will monetize this free Internet access with a toolbar:
Meraki Toolbar

Hmm, I wonder how people will like that. I guess they’ll deal if it’s free.


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2 Responses to Free Wi-Fi makes people happy.

  1. Bob says:

    Interesting… as someone that enjoys using public wireless, this is a welcome development. Maybe they’ll roll out something similar in my neck of the woods. Also, the argument for keeping your wireless unlocked was interesting. Really, it makes sense. I don’t think that the likelihood of someone poaching info from my network due to it being unlocked is any worse that the likelihood of any other random crime. Encryption through the computers instead of on the network makes a lot more sense as well due to the change to increasingly more mobile information technology options.

  2. Jack says:

    Being to lazy to setup another access point in the front of my house, I signed up and received a free access point from Meraki- it’s not a great internet connection- lots of latency, but it gets me online well enough. My sister-in-law uses it too- and can’t understand why her video chats keep dropping. 2 minutes into a conversation about the principles of QoS and she was throwing up her hands and saying “I hate computers!” I’m not as disappointed as she is, but am curious how they’ll make it usable for more than bare minimum levels of service. Am I going to plug my DSL into it? Maybe- I know how to manage Quality of Service control on my end that gives me priority over my pipe. But nice people without that knowledge will end up losing quality if the let the P2P download junkie next door leach on their DSL line. In the end I probably won’t- isn’t Meraki just trying to take advantage of my good will and Utopian mindset (free internet=good) so that they can turn a profit?

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