Meraki's Outdoor Wireless Mesh Router - Part 2 - Software
Sunday, March 02 2008 @ 02:07 AM CST
Contributed by: MikeMcArthur
If you want to read about using a Meraki router "the way it is supposed to be used", I suggest this review by Joseph Moran. Meraki routers are probably very good at doing what they are "intended" to do -- but they are most definitely not general purpose devices -- at least not with the stock software and configuration.
Click the "Read More" link to find out why, and see some screenshots. Default Behavior
I started by plugging the Meraki router into my home network and turning it on. When I connected to the "meraki" SSID using my laptop, the Meraki router gave my laptop an IP address out of 10.0.0.0/8, with the Meraki router having an address of 10.128.128.128.
Next, I turned on a second Meraki router, and connected my laptop to it via the ethernet port. This time, it got another 10.0.0.0/8 address, with the router (router2 this time) having an address of 10.128.128.128.
I was able to reach hosts on the Internet or on my home network from my laptop. Traffic from my laptop to the rest of the world was NATed, and appeared to be NATed twice. I could not get to my laptop from my home network.
This might be a good way to provide Internet access to total strangers, but not for providing bidirectional connectivity on a private network.
An informal throughput test using the iperf bandwidth measurement utility determined the connection speed to be about 6.5Mbps. The test was conducted across a room with a laptop connecting via ethernet to the Meraki node, through the Meraki gateway, to a host on my home network.
This was only about 2 Mbps faster than a connection across a pair of WOET11 802.11b bridges at 200 yards -- not a significant increase in speed.
The extra NAT hops may have contributed to the poor performance, but much of the slowness may have been deliberate. The Meraki features bandwidth-limiting to keep one user from hogging all the available Internet bandwidth on a wireless mesh cloud.
Surely, there must be a way to configure this thing to turn off NAT and bandwidth-limiting.... right?
Here is a screen shot of the Meraki device home page. In this case, it is not connected to my home network and has not received an IP address via DHCP.
There isn't much on that home page. Maybe if I click the link entitled "Advanced Configuration..."
That is the "Advanced Configuration" page in all its glory. Not much here, either. Just a signal strength monitor, links to test the speed of connections to other nodes, and a link to the "Static IP Configuration page"
And this is the "Static IP Configuration" page, for those who don't have DHCP on their network. There is a non-supported option on here for using a non-Meraki wireless network as the uplink for the Meraki.
That is all there is to Meraki configuration screens. Anything else, no matter how trivial, is done over the Internet on Meraki's "Dashboard" web site. Even changing the wireless SSID on the router requires registering the router with your Meraki dashboard account and configuring it from the central web site.
To Meraki's credit, one can SSH into the router using "meraki" as the username, and the serial number of the device as the password. This gets you a BusyBox command-line with root-level access to the router.
This is excellent. The Meraki is running a Linux variant that looks like a highly customized version of OpenWRT.
The bad news is that I was not able to find a whole lot of information on how to de-Meraki-ize these things -- or on how to make those changes survive a reboot.
Third Party Software
Loading OpenWRT or DD-WRT onto this box would likely fix all the problems I had with it, and finally make it into an excellent general-purpose wireless outdoor embedded Linux device. And I was pleased to find out that both OpenWRT and DD-WRT have builds available for the Meraki. And Meraki even has a build of OpenWRT available for download on their website.
The bad news is that I was not able to get any of these builds (as of February 2008) to work with the devices I had.
In fact, following these instructions on the DD-WRT site caused me to "brick" one of my routers. Before you try to do an "fis init" and erase the flash on your router, make sure that your code will load and run using the "risk free test" mentioned on the OpenWRT Meraki Mini wiki page.
Bricking a Meraki is a pain to recover from. After I bricked mine, I found out that:
At this point, I realized that I was not going to get the Meraki routers to do what I needed them to do in the time that I had to work with them. I sent them back to Meraki, and went with Plan B.
Plan B involved two LinkSys WRT54GLs running DD-WRT in wireless bridge mode - and some redneck weatherproofing with large Ziplock bags and lots of duct tape. It worked beautifully.
At this time (early 2008), I cannot recommend using the Meraki Outdoor router for anything other than connecting to a Meraki Mesh network. If you try to use it for anything else, you will be disappointed - especially if you want it to work "out of the box" without having to install third-party software.
That said, I think that it is just a matter of time before somebody, somewhere "cracks the code" and publishes a reliable way to turn the Meraki Outdoor router into a usable general-purpose wireless router. Hopefully it will be soon, because I have other projects that could use something like it.