Meraki Networks this month quietly came out of beta and created three new pricing schemes for its wireless networking products–but the unannounced change caused quite a bit of furor on the company’s message boards, where users felt betrayed by the lack of advance warning.
The three new tiers are called Standard, Pro, and Carrier. Standard is largely similar to the beta product, while Pro and Carrier add functionality specifically targeted at reseller and carrier customers.
Company CEO Sanjit Biswas says the beta period helped Meraki learn more about the potential of its products. “We saw a lot of interest initially from community groups, enthusiasts, and hobbyists who wanted to set these networks up in their neighborhoods,” he says. “Then it expanded to mainstream customers who wanted to do the same thing–and then we saw it creep into the business market.”
It was the business interest, Biswas says, that led to the creation of the Pro and Carrier tiers. “Basically, we’re trying to create an ecosystem of people who want to set up and install Meraki networks all over the world,” he says.
While the Standard edition keeps the product’s initial price point of $50 for an indoor repeater and $100 for an outdoor one, the Pro edition costs $150 for indoor and $200 for outdoor. The difference comes down to control–a Standard network has no limitations on access, while a Pro network is closed, can charge for access, and includes advanced user management features.
And the Carrier edition, for which prices aren’t disclosed, is designed to integrate with a carrier’s existing infrastructure. “If you’re a DSL provider, a cable provider, or you’re in the WiMAX business, you can connect all your existing systems to ours and you get seamless integration,” Biswas says. “You have the same user names everywhere, the same billing systems, and so on.”
Meraki’s official mission is to “bring affordable Internet access to the next billion people”–and Biswas says the new tiers are designed to assist with that aim. “A lot of these service providers are in emerging markets where we wouldn’t have been able to go ourselves…what we’re trying to do is enter some of these markets that we can’t reach directly,” he says.
And Biswas insists the announcement was never intended to shock Meraki’s users. The company had contacted its larger customers in advance to warn them of the change–but not the smaller ones who were active on the Forums. “It was an interesting process, and I’m actually still glad that we did it the way we did, largely because it let us adapt our feature set to better suit each of the segments,” he says.
As a result, Biswas says, the company has made some significant changes to the tiers in response to customer requests, including additional local advertising features for Standard users. “We added some functionality to our messaging platforms so they can add local sponsorship names, and we’re also building a landing page that showcases local sponsors,” he says.
The aim of the new structure, he says, was always to enhance the offering, not to impede it. “We realized this kind of community-driven Wi-Fi movement was actually very cool and very powerful, and so we wanted to preserve that as much as possible,” Biswas says. “And hopefully what we did is we introduced Pro in such a way that it didn’t threaten the success of community-based Wi-Fi networks.”
Stay tuned: next month, Wi-FiPlanet reviews Meraki’s Indoor and Outdoor repeaters. In December, we get a sneak peek at their newest offering, the Solar.
Jeff Goldman is a freelance journalist and photographer based in Los Angeles.