Meraki has just introduced a muni wireless Starter Pack for $10,000 per square mile (available until 1 December 2008) with a 60-day money back guarantee for cities or business districts that want to unwire their neighborhoods. Meraki says that setting up a wide-area Wi-Fi network using their equipment is much less expensive than the $25,000 to $100,000 estimated cost (per square mile) using other manufacturers’ gear. I went to the Meraki website and tried to get more information about what is included in this starter pack, but I couldn’t find the information.
Update: The kit includes 50 nodes, which Meraki claims “should provided Wi-Fi coverage to approximately 1 square mile.” It also includes a free site assessment, a 60 day money-back guarantee, offering municipalities flexibility. And for municipalities that need help in deploying, Meraki will also provide access to its partner network.
Success of a network does not depend only on low cost equipment
As we all know, setting up a Wi-Fi network in one square mile of New York City is completely different from setting one up in Mountain View, California (suburban, less densely populated). There is no one size fits all model. Fifty nodes might be too little for cities like Amsterdam and Paris which are very densely populated or indeed for neighborhoods where there are a lot of students crammed into apartments, using a lot of bandwidth.
Most of all, a Wi-Fi network’s success boils down to one thing: satisfying the users. Anyone who sets up a network has to set up reasonable expectations among users and meet them. That means the provider has to know who the users are and what they are using the network for. Moreover, the cost of a network does not depend on the cost of the wireless nodes alone. There’s the cost of the backhaul: is it fiber? DSL? If the users are sending and receiving lots of data and using up a lot of bandwidth, the cost of backhaul may be significant.
Then there are the infamous marketing costs — how do you get users to know about and use the network? If you are giving away access for free, how will you pay for the network? In some cases, for example, on public transport, it makes sense to give away access to entice people away from competitors (other transport companies, the car, airlines).