I met Sanjit Biswas, the founder of Meraki, when he was a student at MIT and I was visiting Nicholas Negroponte. This was only last year which shows, among other things, a great side of USA and that is how fast somebody can go from being a super talented student to being CEO of a Sequoia funded company.
While at MIT, Nicholas recommended that FON use Sanjit’s open source software and we seriously looked into it. The problem that we have seen so far is that FON has chosen to collaborate with the ISPs and Telcos rather than fighting them, and we have come up with a formula that is seen as fair by them, namely that if you already pay for broadband you can use it elsewhere. What Meraki does, however, by meshing is a problem for us on two fronts. One is signal degradation, and the second is that meshing could be viewed as abusive by ISPs and Telcos as it extends their connections way beyond their points of sale.
At FON, we have come up with a formula that is simple: you share a little extra bandwidth at home and you roam the world for free. It’s a one to one ratio and FON promotes bandwidth growth as Foneros are more likely to buy broadband even if they travel a lot (indeed because they travel a lot). With meshing it’s hard to promote a balanced formula like this. Still, I see one situation in which FON could use Meraki and that is when a Fonero has their DSL or cable end away from a window and cannot project his/her signal to other Foneros on the street. In this case Meraki would act as a range extender.
So while FON would not promote that people just get a box like Meraki without paying for broadband and extend the signal of their neighbor as that would be seen as too antagonistic to ISPs and Telcos, we could promote Meraki as a FON signal extender for the Fonero and we are looking into that. Indeed, one of the challenges of FON right now is that some Foneros have their La Foneras inside their homes and they don’t reach the street. This is a problem with Linus Foneros only, as Bill Foneros want to reach the street to make money and they are more likely to place their La Foneras by the window. But some people try but fail to reach the window and the Meraki outdoor model that could send signal far into the street looks very appealing.
Also the people who could really use Meraki are the Muni Wifi projects. FON is from the home to the street and Muni WiFi is from the street to the home. Both are highly complementary. Meraki could have a nice spot in the middle of this. Bottom line, I very much like Meraki, and I think that we can cooperate and make Sequoia, our mutual investor, happier. In general, FON’s idea is to cooperate with anyone who helps propagate WiFi, but so far FON believes that the best way to extend signal without the degradation that meshing entails is to use more powerful antennas. That’s why next month we are launching the Fontenna, and we will send it for free to all of those who have consistently connected roaming Linuses or Aliens.
PD. A Bill at FON cannot roam but makes money selling access to the Community. A Linus roams the world for free but does not make money. An Alien does not build the Community, but pays for and uses WiFi.
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