Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Meraki Wireless Repeater Makes Extending WiFi Easy!

Meraki is now offering a great way to extend you WiFi network. Inexpensive repeaters. The Meraki Mini is a $49 (there is also an outdoor model for $99) AP you just put in your window and connect it to a MuniWiFi network or your own internet connection and then, according to their site, you just add more repeaters to make a mesh, "The more Minis that are out there, the bigger the network. And you can plug right into the repeater instead of going wireless."

I like this idea a lot. So much, in fact, that I use something somewhat similar myself. But is has a few drawbacks that are not mentioned on the website.

In my house we have one AP/Basestation/Router at the DSL D-marque and 3 WiFi repeaters throughout the house. I use the Apple Airport system so I have one Airport Extreme connected to my DSL router and 3 Airport Expresses connected using WDS (wireless distribution system) which mean none of my Airport Express units need a cable drop. It works really well, I can connect to any of the APs and surf the internet and I can stream music from my desktop or any connected laptop to any of them using Apple's AirTunes, even my Dell. The drawback is that every hop from the repeater reduces the bandwidth considerably as each device, with only one radio, has to spend half it's time talking to your laptop and half forwarding the signal. Wikipedia states, "...throughput in this method is inversely proportional to the number of "hops", as all traffic uses the same channel. For example, client traffic going through one relay station before it reaches the main access point will see at most half the maximum throughput that a directly connected client would experience." For me, this is fine as I only have 3Mb/s internet access but for larger mesh networks it begins to be a problem. Meraki suggests, "To boost the signal, connect every tenth one to the Internet." It is unclear from Meraki's documentation if the use separate channels or radios for the back haul.

The system also has a really great web-based management application called Dashboard which they give away for free. Dashboard allows the Network admin to monitor the network, change it's configuration and it has a built in billing feature if you wish to setup a hotspot or be your own neighborhood service provider.

The last really great thing about the Meraki solution is the ability to repeat the relatively weak MuniWiFi signal and project it into your home. This will allow users of these networks, especially one's in older homes with Lathe and Plaster or Stucco and chicken-wire construction to get a lot more signal strength and thus increased speeds. In fact, Meraki is already working in San Francisco to implement a Mesh network in and around my neighborhood. I have signed up for it and we will see where it goes. I will blog about it as it happens. Check it out at http://sf.meraki.net/

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