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A low-cost route to the Web

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"Well, those are all the stories I can think of right now," he says with a hint of humor and modesty. In fact, over the past two years Meraki has powered several thousand wireless networks across 70 countries and opened up the Internet to people who otherwise could never afford it.

While Meraki is a for-profit company, much of its products wind up in affordable housing projects, poor neighborhoods, and developing countries.

"The mission of the company is to bring affordable Internet access to the next billion people," Mr. Biswas says. "We've always felt a social obligation in this work."

Meraki, a Greek word that means putting love and creativity into your work, doesn't offer Internet service. It provides the hardware and software to manage a network. At the heart of the business is the $50 wireless Mini – a wireless router that is neither the fastest nor most powerful on the market. But many have called it the most simple and inexpensive.

Even as major players in municipal Wi-Fi abandon their large wireless projects, those two attributes have carried Meraki networks into Amazonian towns, African cities, and Alaskan outposts. And there's no sign of business slowing down.

A company's wireless roots

Meraki and the Mini trace back to Biswas's studies at MIT in Cambridge, Mass. In 2002, he and company cofounder John Bicket worked on Roofnet, an experimental network that developed the "mesh" model for today's Mini. The project offered graduate students free wireless Internet access if they agreed to put up with the team's system tests and service tweaks.

The two PhD students programmed software and crawled on rooftops throughout the city installing their wireless kits. Unlike the Minis, which are about the size of two decks of playing cards, the Roofnet kits had to be carried with two hands and contained $650 worth of computer parts and antennae.

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