Meraki, a clever start-up with the noble mission of bringing Internet access to the world's poorest places, announced today that it will expand its project in San Francisco -- one of the world's richest places -- citywide. By the end of the year, the company plans to have set up enough radio repeaters to blanket the city in free Web access.
Unlike other municipal Wi-Fi plans -- for instance, the Google/Earthlink endeavor for S.F. that came to a halt last year -- Meraki's avoids bureaucratic and capital-financing hurdles through the magic of decentralization.
The company sells and gives out radio repeaters to people willing to share their cable or DSL Internet lines; the repeaters quickly, silently connect to each other, creating a Wi-Fi web in the sky. With enough repeaters, the network can dance around many of the geographical difficulties that trouble traditional municipal Wi-Fi routers, which are mounted on towers or tall buildings.
By sharing many Internet connections, Meraki -- which is financed, in part, by Google -- aims to deliver access speeds of 1-megabit per second.
The service is already operating in a small section of the city. The company tells News.com that iPhone users particularly like the service -- they say that Meraki service offers faster Web access than AT&T's cellular wireless plan.
The San Francisco project is something like a proof-of-concept for the company. Its real mission is to "bring affordable Internet access to the next billion people." No joke, that makes me feel warm inside.