A week ago I signed up for Meraki’s Free The Net San Francisco project. I noticed that when I stuck my Macbook against my office window in my 3rd floor flat, I could connect to another AP called Free The Net. I sent them my address and stated that I’d be willing to mount one of their out door repeaters here.
For the past few years Google and Earthlink have been knocking on city hall’s door, telling them they’re ready to install wifi access points with fast internet everywhere in the city, giving anyone with a computer and a wifi card costless internet access. All of this for free, the governing forces of this city simply have to say yes. If you’re not a native here in the bay, I’m sure you can already guess that the answer thus far has been no.
What Meraki is doing is creating a city wide mesh network of open wifi access points. The difference here is instead of asking the government running the city, it’s asking the residents of the city. Access points are all hosted/housed by people who want to expand the mesh. Some folks are (from my understanding) being paid to host a main node plus internet access for it, while others setup repeaters to hit the main node or others part of the mesh.
Today I got a package from them in the mail. It contained an outdoor repeater, a long antenna, power and ethernet, plus various mounting brackets. Setup was extremely easy. Since I wasn’t too keen with hanging out of my window mounting something to the outside of the building in the pouring rain, I opted to use suction cups and stick the repeater to my window facing the street. The device can draw power over ethernet, which is rather rad as the AC/DC adapter’s cord wasn’t all that long. In addition the thing draws less power then my Linksys router, but at the same time getting way better range. The ports on the back of the thing are covered up with a weatherproof plate and gaskets.
After feeding it some power, it took about a minute to find the other Free The Net access point down the street and connect to it. No more configuration. DSLreports tells me the connection is coming from someone on Speakeasy, my speeds are about 83.2kbyts down 4.5kbyts up. For free, that’s not half bad. Overall I’m fairly impressed.
So far the mesh spans most of The Mission, Castro at Market, The Lower Haight and parts of The Panhandle. Check out their map to see live usage, right now there are three people using the repeater stuck to my window. If you look like you’re in an area close by to another repeater but there isn’t a marker for you on the map, take your laptop to a window and see what you get. If you can connect to a network, I implore you to sign up and stick some pretty white plastic electronics to the outside of your home. They have a smaller indoor repeater if you’re not too keen on mounting anything to your exterior.
Free The Net indeed.