Is Meraki as inexpensive and open-source as it seems?

Not really, says Sascha Meinrath, Research Director for the New America Foundation’s Wireless Future Program and a founder of the Champaign-Urbana Wireless Network. Sascha agrees that Meraki is a good option for people who want to create a wireless network quickly, but they don’t understand that although the hardware seems inexpensive ($49 for the indoor repeater, $149 for the outdoor solar-powered mesh access point), Meraki users could wind up paying much more than they expected:

“Hundreds of projects, organizations, and municipalities are rolling out Meraki-based networks, yet few seem to understand that they’re buying a service not a piece of hardware. Over time, these initiatives will end up paying an unknown amount of money to Meraki just to keep their system running. It is, in fact, the ultimate bait-and-switch paradigm — you think you have a one-time hardware cost, instead you get vendor lock-in, recurring charges, and path dependencies.”

Read more about Meraki on Sascha’s blog.

Comments

  1. Hi Esme,
    Our $149/$199 products include the cost of the hosted backend service for the lifetime of the product, so there are no hidden fees or charges. We expect most customers will upgrade to newer radio hardware (802.11n, etc.) every 3-4 years, which is what the article is referring to.

    Like most other commercial systems vendors, we’re investing millions of dollars in technology development and are not able to make our systems open source for competitive reasons. However, we are able to focus on making our systems as easy to deploy as possible and providing commercial-grade support, which ends up matching our customers’ needs.

    Hope this clarifies things,
    Sanjit

  2. What happens to all those devices should Meraki go out of business or change their business model? I’m also curious what portion of the technology can’t be open-sourced for competitive reasons… the mesh technology? the remote administrative part? Coming from open-source roots, I’m surprised Meraki is so closed (in source and services).

    Which is why there is http://open-mesh.com/

  3. There’s been some lively discussion on the original post along with some clarifications from Meraki. The core problem (of additional costs) remains — but is even more nuanced.

  4. This doesn’t seem nuanced at all. Meraki’s making it clear they are a commercial solution and not an open source project.

    Motorola Canopy, Tropos, Cisco, etc. all have the same issues with vendor lock-in and closed wireless protocols. Even WiMax gear which claims to be standards-based doesn’t really work if you mix vendors.

    My guess is Meraki figured out how the market of community enthusiasts doesn’t have any money, and that commercial operators don’t place a lot of weight on open protocols (and instead are looking for strong economics).

  5. Alex, I agree. Though, it could be a short sighted strategy as many of these ‘enthusiasts’ are exactly the people building networks – particularly the community, rural, low-incomes variety which Meraki targets.

    To me, comparing Meraki with the other companies and products is a bit unfair. Cisco, for instance, doesn’t tend to not lock anyone into a service and usually supports standards and inter-operates whenever possible. WiMax and the other vendors mentioned serve a different market – back-haul and more industrial. And, I don’t think I’d say people are ‘happy’ with those vendors being closed, but there are less alternatives.

    This isn’t the case with WiFi mesh…

  6. Oops, I didn’t mean to use the double negative… the above should read: “[Cisco] doesn’t tend to lock…”

    And, to comment further, it is interesting to think that the founders of Meraki used to be the kind of wifi enthusiasts that they now don’t consider their market, if Alex is correct. Which makes me wonder if their change of heart in favor of ‘stronger economics’ is more their idea or that of their investors – and if they actually agree with it.

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