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Meraki and a few impressions


I’ve been working on a Wifi Mesh experiment with Meraki Gear for the last 2 months. I was looking for a better low-cost single radio mesh alternative to the OLSR/OpenWRT platform (Freifunk Firmware). So far, the experiment is going well, it has some glitches with coverage due to the low-power radios of the Meraki Mini (60 mw), but at the end, the network really works and it has some advantages over Ad-hoc madness behavior on the standard atheros/linux code. Since last month I have 4 Meraki Minis on a 4 floor apartment complex, one per floor and the gateway linked to a wireless 802.11a p2p backhaul, through the ethernet interface. The overall user experience is good, but unfortunately, since it’s a closed box you can’t modify it to integrate with your current network. Yes, it runs Linux, you can login through ssh and you have the Meraki/OpenWRT modified source available. But the SrcRR protocol Click driver is not and all the network ip address scheme is hard coded (it’s calculated from the Mac Address). The clients get an adddress from the and the Mesh assigns a network. Also, one of the major problems for customization is that every node has NAT configured for every client, even for intra-mesh traffic. So, a client who’s connected to node A, can’t access directly a client on node B, because all the traffic from clients is NATed from every Mini. So, you have NAT on the Gateway node connected to the internet and for every other node on the Mesh. So if you have for example a wifi camera that’s not NAT friendly, be prepared for dealing with major headaches. There’s always a way to hack the Merakis, you can install an ipkg package from OpenWRT with your software or scripts, but you only have a /storage writable partion and from time to time there’s an on-the-air firmware upgrade that you don’t know what will do. So you’ll end up playing the catch & run game. The last option for total control is to flash the Meraki with a brand new OpenWRT. But for what? The most valuable piece of software it’s the SrcRR Mesh driver and you can’t get that with a plain OpenWRT and there’s always a cheaper alternative (at least, in Europe), the Foneras.
Oh and by the way, there’s no WPA or WPA2, just plain old WEP. I checked the Merakis and saw hostapd.conf on /etc, so they’re planning in the future to implement WPA.

But if what you want is a low-cost, plug&play mesh solution for your house or neighborhood with a great dashboard control, some statistics and a simple splash page to authenticate your users, Meraki rox. Oh and by the way, if you’re living in Europe, you’ll run a bit of trouble to get this babies from euro-resellers if you want to avoid customs. If you’re desperate, drop me a note.

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