Global leader: Sanjit Biswas, CEO
Core activity: Wireless mesh networks
Revenue: Not disclosed
Key customers: Multi-dweller units such as apartment complexes, small towns and local governments
Covering a city or town in wi-fi signals, with citizens able to get online whenever and wherever they wish, sounds like a wonderful idea. Yet all around the world, so called municipal wi-fi installations have been a resounding dud. City after city has advocated the idea, only for costs to blow out, the complexity of build defeat planners or low subscriber numbers that belie the power of the idea.
Into this landscape strides Meraki, a San Francisco start-up that manufactures wi-fi hardware designed to help blanket a city with a signal, or wire out-of-the-way locations. The company relies on mesh networks to pull off this trick, with its hardware configured to seek out other Meraki devices until the user’s device finds an entry point to the internet, a configuration it hopes will help “bring affordable internet access to the next billion people worldwide”.
Management software to make this work is delivered as a service, removing the need for packet-wrangling or radio expertise to set up a Meraki network. The company’s wares also make it possible to share one’s domestic or commercial internet account, doling out pre-determined amounts of bandwidth to anonymous users as a philanthropic gesture that extends the free coverage.
Enthusiasm for the technology comes from intriguing sources: Meraki’s investors include Google and Silicon Valley venture capital firm Sequoia Capital. And around the world, ordinary citizens have been using Meraki to do what governments or carriers cannot or will not deliver. Sydney group “Free Sydney Wireless”, for example, has been importing bulk quantities of Meraki devices to satisfy its members’ enthusiasm for city-wide, free connectivity. Similar groups have done likewise in Canberra, Melbourne and West Australia. Simon Sharwood