merakilogo.bmpWant a dirt cheap Internet connection for everyone in your apartment building? Meraki Networks offers a way.

The Mountain View start-up provides cheap Wireless Internet connections to people by selling $49-a-piece “mesh” routers, or routers that connect with each other to extend the range of a single Internet connection. Meraki has just raised $5 million in a first round of venture capital, led by Sequoia capital. That follows under $1 million obtained from Google and other individual investors.

You plug the router into a power outlet and into an Internet connection, and that router extends the connection’s coverage by hooking up with other Meraki routers — and it extends that coverage further than competing technologies do, the company says.

Here’s how it worked in a Portland, Oregon test: A hundred routers were installed to cover 400 apartment units, housing about 1,000 people. A philanthropist paid $4,999 to supply the routers. The upside is, the project required only five DSL connections, and each person enjoyed the same broadband quality as they would normally from a single connection, chief executive Sanjit Biswas tells VentureBeat. The end result: Instead of each person paying $20 a month for a reliable Internet connection, they’re only paying about $1 a month, he says.

VentureBeat wrote about this company earlier.

Meraki also offers a control system, letting administrators decide which users to permit or deny on a network — and to allow things like rationing, limiting a single user to say, 1MB if he is found to be regularly hogging the system’s bandwidth. The network owner can charge for access as he or she sees fit.

Sanjit tells VentureBeat that Meraki will go after low-income areas, both in the U.S and in the developing world. The company sees an attractive market in both U.S. rural and urban areas that are underserved by Internet connections, he said.

People can buy the routers to cover their homes, apartment complexes and entire communities.

So far, the system has been in testing mode, but has been used in 25 countries. Sanjit says the company’s mission is to “connect the next billion people.” The router will go on general sale in the “coming weeks.”

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