[FoRK] Not going gently into post beta blues

Lion Kimbro <lionkimbro at gmail.com> on Sun Oct 7 15:10:30 PDT 2007


  * PTP: Personal Telco Project (Portland)

  * Meraki

On 10/7/07, Tom Higgins <tomhiggins at gmail.com> wrote:
> I had some hope for this project. I had seen the devices early on and
> got to hear some folks talk about a largish install of them in some
> low income housing in the Portland area. This news though, well it
> sort of changes things for an underfunded non profits (the ptp to
> spell it out) desires.(sidebar  Some of us have been mucking around
> with olsrd and crude tunnels to get some sense of a network  going,
> more on that if there is interest. )
> -----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> http://wifinetnews.com/archives/007973.html
> Mutiny on the Meraki: Google-backed Firm Ups Prices, Changes Features,
> Requires Ads
> By Glenn Fleishman
> Meraki has changed its pricing and feature model for its mesh
> networking system, angering early users: Exiting its beta, Meraki has
> changed its pricing and service model, while requiring the display of
> advertising and a piece of the action for handling billing. This
> abrupt change, announced quietly last week, has resulted in a nascent
> networker revolt. It may be that early infrastructure builders abandon
> Meraki because to continue expanding networks, their cost structure
> has gone way up while control has gone way down.
> The two basic nodes that Meraki sells, Indoor and Outdoor, were priced
> at $50 and $100 during the beta. The beta flag is gone from their
> site, and while you can still buy the nodes at that price, many
> features formerly included raise the price to $150 for Indoor and $200
> for Outdoor. These prices move them into the range of what used to be
> much higher-priced metro-scale hardware.
> Meraki's system works by having little intelligence built into nodes
> instead relying on an Internet-hosted administrative system to handle
> the heavy lifting. Adding nodes requires just some configuration via a
> Web site. Each node auto-discovers existing networks allowing their
> addition. Each gateway to the Internet added to a Meraki network
> increases the bandwidth pool.
> The change puts tiers into effect. The Standard edition with the
> cheaper pricing doesn't allow billing nor user authentication, nor
> does it offer a custom splash page (a logo is all). Even the network
> name gets Meraki branding on it ("Free the Net" precedes a local
> name). Standard does offer a private WPA-protected network for the
> owners, but without any granular access control. This means that a
> group that wants to change small amounts for access or control access
> by user cannot use the entry-level version. According to the forums,
> this includes a lot of early networks. Standard networks also can't
> "whitelist" more than a handful of devices, which means that devices
> that lack the ability to display a Web page for authentication
> purposes can't even access the network. So no Xboxes, VoIP phones, and
> so on.
> The Pro edition bypasses these limitations, essentially adding a $100
> per node license for advanced control and the ability to bill.
> However, because several of the Pro features were previously in the
> only version Meraki sold during its beta, many networks had build
> their business model, their pitch to cities and communities and
> businesses, and their financing on $50 and $100 nodes. The Pro version
> ups the ante while taking away some of what these network builders
> need, according to the forums. (A Carrier class version, with no
> pricing disclosed, allows a tie-in with existing user authentication
> system, and allows more of a private-label version.)
> So-called Legacy networks, ones that were built before this last week,
> can continue to run as they do or be upgraded to Pro status at no
> extra cost. But once upgraded, all the Pro limitations are in effect.
> Any new nodes added to a Legacy network must be Pro nodes, too;
> there's no option to add Standard nodes. This is part of what's
> causing ire on the Meraki forums. (One of these networks, Kokua
> Wireless, was praised in an editorial in today's Honolulu Star
> Tribune; someone from the network noted on Meraki's forums, "It'll be
> hard to build a business even @ the Pro level knowing Meraki can make
> such drastic changes." One network operator has already flashed his
> Merakis with alternate firmware.)
> In this formal release, Meraki now displays advertising on every page
> using what they variously call Community Messaging, Community
> Messaging & Advertising Platform, and Messaging Platform. It's often
> euphemistic. In effect, Google ads—Google is a Meraki investor—will
> appear on every page in a special toolbar that requires no
> installation. Which means that it's inserted using some
> technique—probably frames—that might cause other problems, too.
> Network operators can insert localized messages, but to a limited
> extent. There's no option for Standard and Pro users to disable
> advertising or the messaging bar. There's no disclosure on what
> revenue, if any, Meraki splits with the network operator. If Meraki
> handles billing for Pro users, they keep 20 percent of gross revenue.
> I had to check the Web site after being alerted to this change,
> assuming that senior management—largely a bunch of MIT grad students
> who turned RoofNet into this clever commercial offering—had been fired
> or shuffled, and a new carrier-oriented CEO was hired. As far as they
> site shows, it's the same gang. Which surprises me, given how open the
> group was about communicating, and how interested in community
> building. This is a huge stumble, when the community tells me that
> they were unaware of the changes to come until the Web site started to
> have new information on it.
> At $150 and $200 for managed nodes, Meraki has now lost some of its
> edge against companies like Tropos Networks, the most likely
> comparison. While Tropos, Cisco, BelAir, Motorola, Strix, and SkyPilot
> typically charge $2,000 to $5,000 for their nodes, with the more
> expensive ones including 5 GHz backhaul radios, those prices are
> heavily discounted, several sources have told me recently. Tropos
> nodes can cost EarthLink, its biggest customer, under $1,000, I have
> it from multiple parties outside the service provider.
> While $1,000 is clearly five times $200 for a similar outdoor piece of
> gear, that belies several factors. Tropos is using enormously
> high-powered radios, capable of producing up the maximum legal signal
> strength in 2.4 GHz. Tropos has a sophisticated back-end that allows
> integration with many popular management and authentication systems.
> Using Tropos or other vendors' network gear is substantially less
> trivial than building one from Meraki pieces, but with enormously
> larger coverage areas relative to cost now, Meraki has moved itself
> towards that equipment range without bringing the robustness needed.
> The system and hardware has gotten rave reviews for the simplicity in
> building a network in bits and pieces. But the good will may have just
> flown out the window. I have just sent a query off to Meraki's PR
> firm, but it being Sunday morning, I don't expect to update this post
> until Monday.
> --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> -tom(flash em up)higgins
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