Open-Mesh: The Experience Thus Far.

UPDATED 4/10/13

Please see my new post on Open-Mesh here.

Introduction

Partially connected mesh topology
Partially connected mesh topology (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m an elder at a fairly small congregational church (Calvary Community Church) that consists of three separate buildings: the main building, a parsonage, and a fellowship hall (think gym/kitchen). For a number of years now we’ve had Verizon FiOS at the location and a single Actiontec router would distribute internet access throughout the entire building.

Problem was, we had a few printers that only supported wired ethernet ports. I had been using some Panasonic Ethernet-over-Power adapters to get the network to these devices, but around a year ago began experiencing significant issues. It seemed that on Sunday mornings without fail the devices would fail. We did a sound upgrade the summer the issues began and I suspect that something with the sound system was causing interference – but after a lot of work and time I was unable to track anything down, so I needed an alternative…

This is when I stumbled upon Open-Mesh and as part of a larger upgrade sought to implement the Open-Mesh routers to replace our current wireless and wired systems. This article is documentation on the experience thus far.

The Equipment

So, we kept the Verizon Actiontec router but turned off it’s wireless – so it wouldn’t send out signals and interfere with the Open-Mesh routers. Initially I purchased four of the Open-Mesh MR500 routers at $59/ea. These routers are the next-generation routers from Open-Mesh and currently in beta. I wanted to get these devices rather than the more tried-and-true OM1P’s b/c the MR500’s were 802.11n and supported both 2.4 and 5 GHz bandwidths.

I had a desktop in the office along with two printers (all Dell) and a Cisco VoIP phone. One of the features that attracted me to Open-Mesh was that each router included switch ports – so I could wirelessly transmit signal but still run cable to the units that didn’t support wireless.

On the 2.5th floor I had another laptop – an older unit that is just used to control PowerPoint presentations and make audio recordings of services. Then there were the random units that make their way into the church – whether one of my laptops or someone else who is working in the church.

The Setup

The initial setup was fairly easy. I plugged a network cable into the Actiontec wireless router and ran it into the first MR500 unit. Then I went to the office and plugged in the second MR500 unit and plugged all the non->wireless devices into it. I placed another MR500 on the wall facing the parsonage and fellowship hall and the final unit I placed in the parsonage itself.

I then went to the CloudTrax control panel and registered all four devices. Three came up no problem – one didn’t…the one in the parsonage. Granted, it is a little distance from a the parsonage to the church – but I had previously rigged an 802.11g NetGear router in the same spot and had been able to pick up signal in the parsonage…so I was a bit confused as to why this wouldn’t work – same distance, better technology, right?

Communications to the office seemed to work fine. Every once in a while some of the devices would lose connectivity momentarily but then gain it back. The machine on the 2.5th floor always held connectivity without issue. Other free-floating laptops seemed to be able to hold connectivity fine within the building.

After further troubleshooting I purchased a fifth unit – in case the one in the parsonage was bad and swapped it out. Still no luck. But if I brought either unit back into the main church building and used it – it worked fine. Hmmm…so it was a distance thing right?

The Real Conundrum

Now, no one could get connectivity from the parsonage, but connectivity with the same laptops in the church worked. But sometimes if you disconnected the MR500 in the parsonage and reconnected you would get a connection to the network.

I finally figured it out. The unit in the parsonage was not communicating with any of the units in the main church building, but the laptops could communicate with the units in the main church building. Wait a second – my laptops with their weak 802.11g radios are getting signal while the 802.11n MR500 isn’t?

This didn’t and still doesn’t make sense to me.

The Current Situation

I’m at a bit of a loss at this juncture. Unfortunately, I’ve twice spoken to representatives from Open-Mesh and both times they’ve promised after some initial quick testing to take a look at the account and get back to me – but I’ve never received a call back or a return email. 🙁

Overall Thoughts

  • The MR500 routers are nice devices, they have multiple ports and the price is great compared to either Meru or Meraki – the two other major mesh network providers (I mean, by hundreds of dollars!).
  • The cloud based management portal is fairly intuitive and while a little rough around the edges, does what it should. I like it.
  • The MR500 routers are beta devices and the Open-Mesh folks do warn on the site not to use them in production…so, I’m not complaining that the device doesn’t work right.
  • But I am saddened that such a promising company and product line has failed to communicate with me. I’m an IT professional – more than willing to walk through processes to resolve these issues and help the product exit beta – but thus far I haven’t been given the chance.
  • Right now, my routers are apparently running outdated firmware. I spoke with Open-Mesh about how to upgrade the firmware through CloudTrax – but it hasn’t worked and no one has contacted me back..

I hate to post blog posts like this – especially about smaller companies that are trying to do good things…but I’m a bit at the end of my rope here. 🙁

Update 5/11/11

No sooner had I published this article then I figured out the issue preventing the firmware from upgrading and began preventing it. Towards the bottom of a KB article on the next generation (NG) firmware was the following note:

“NG nodes will further auto-upgrade over-the-air to the latest version of NG if the following conditions are met…All nodes are up and checking into the dashboard.”

So I deleted the non-functioning nodes and two out of my three devices still remaining upgraded – one just crashed. Then, I brought over the remaining two devices and with the crashed one added them all back into CloudTrax – now all but one has finished upgrading, and I expect the last one to finish sometime tonight.

I’m not sure this will fix the issues with the routers communicating between each other and relaying, but I am happy to have the latest firmware in any case.

My main complaint at this juncture is still the lack of customer support. 🙁 But maybe I’ll try calling again once I get everything I can figured out from my end (I prefer to do things myself when possible).

13 Replies to “Open-Mesh: The Experience Thus Far.”

  1. Hello, How did you progres please.. Please email. The MR500 doesn’t have the same coverage as the 2.4GHZ for the mesh. They have speed. Maybe use the eop devices or use 2.4 for the bridge or can you put that 5 Mr500 in the middle?

    1. Mark,
      I did purchase a fifth unit, but that did not resolve the issue. It seems whenever I put the MR500 in the other building it doesn’t pick up signal and just causes issues. So for now we placed a unit on the second floor in the main church building and that reaches across with the g radio. It can be a little flaky on occasion, but is usually reliable. We previously had all the units in the downstairs, and one by the one window facing the other building – but whenever a car came in it would weaken the signal. By putting one unit on the second floor we are now higher than the cars.
      I have a Cat 5e line running across from the one building to the other. We are going to terminate this cable and then try moving an MR500 again into the other building, but using the Cat 5e cable to hard write the connection between buildings.
      Take care,
      Dave

  2. hello there, I just read your article and wanted to give my experiences.. We are using over 20 of these units to supply a free internet. We have noticed that customer support from the company is not very good. It seems to only be one person and he’s gruff and dismissive IMHO.

    Positives are that the units are very cheap (we use OM1P units). The cloudtrax dashboard is ok but as I’m typing this it’s actually down. The other thing I don’t like is that upgrading to NG firmware is not full proof and I currently have one network stuck in limbo (299) for a week now. I also don’t like that you have to check “use test firmware” to get the NG firmware even though it’s not “test” firmware to my knowledge.

    We have also decided to go with other (better) backhaul radios to “split the difference” between legs of our network to help with speed.

    While I like these radios I think I’ll look elsewhere for my next deployment.

    Negatives.
    Customer support
    dashboard is a little buggy
    upgrading is not easy
    units cut speed each hope so network slows in just a few hops
    Captive portal options are really lacking. They need more ways one can monetize the “splash” page

  3. I guest the fifth unit in another building did not get enough coverage on mesh 5 GHz radio. Remember, 5 GHz radio coverage is half of those 2.4 GHz radio. Higher frequency, higher attenuation, resulting shorter distance/coverage. Try to put one unit as a repeater between 2 building or 2 AP’s, or put it in outside wall. Rgds

  4. Hey Dave, I’m glad I found your post: I’m investigating open mesh right now for my church. We don’t have quite the distributed layout you have, but will still need to get across one parking lot. I’m pretty sure the problem you’re having with the MR500 in the parsonage is what Yohanes said: the MR500 uses the 5GHz range for meshing and the 2GHz for clients. 5GHz doesn’t have nearly the range of 2.
    I’ve also had similar responsiveness issues with them: I sent them a couple of pre-sales questions a week or more ago and haven’t heard anything back. However, as you noted, there’s really no other alternative, now that meraki is no longer selling their Mini.
    I was leaning toward building my network with the MR500, but I think that now I will go with the OM1P. It loses a lot of throughput, because it uses the same radio for mesh and client communications, but it has more mesh range and “punch” than the MR500. Also, it has an external antenna that I can replace to gain more coverage.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

    -Peter

  5. Thanks for posting your experience. I was going to buy a couple of the beta units since I was thinking good price for dual band and set up a mesh in a house for a friend. Also was going to use in place of individual wireless routers for multiple locations since you can monitor each network through cloudtrax.

    Now hearing your experience I’m wondering if this is just a PITA waiting to happen. Cheap hardware cost doesn’t save anything if there is no support and problems abound.

    One thing that would be useful is knowing the distances between your mesh nodes. Do you have a map?

  6. I’ve recently purchased 3 MR500’s from Open-Mesh for use in the office to connect about 20 sales executives with laptops and about 8-10 production staff.

    The 2 access points worked fine, but when I plug in the 3rd, anybody that connects to it is unable to get any Internet access. Problem immediately gets resolved when I unplug it. I am now running the network with only 2 nodes.

    The devices could certainly benefit from having support for external antennas for both the 2.4GHz radio and the 5GHz radio.

    I’m going to run some tests on the 3rd node to try isolate what the problem could be…will keep you posted. On the whole, I think the idea behind the product is awesome and can do wonders here in Africa to bridge the digital divide and allow more people to share their Internet connections.

  7. It’s been about a month since I posted and several weeks since I’ve set up a couple of small mesh networks, one at a residence consisting of two nodes and one at church consisting of three nodes. Both utilize the OM1P. At church, the gateway node is in an office. There’s another node about 65′ North of it, separated by two exterior walls (stucco on wire mesh) and one interior wall (drywall). The third node is about 200′ NW of the non-gateway node. It’s in one of open mesh’s weatherproofing exterior boxes on the outside wall of the parsonage, so it’s separated from both of the other nodes by a single exterior wall and a few trees. It gets signal from both nodes, but gets better signal from and typically connects to the non-gateway node. I haven’t had time to do any serious throughput testing, but the mesh is pretty solid and seems to work well. I flashed both of the meshes with firmware NG shortly after setting them up in order to get access to the LAN for printing. Firmware NG works well and I like the extra information available when using it (RSSI and Rate info).
    I don’t know how the OM1P compares to the MR500, but I’ve been completely satisfied and even rather pleasantly surprised by the OM1P’s performance. It pretty much blows the Meraki Mini out of the water in terms of power, in my limited and subjective experience. In fact, I have two OM1P’s still in their boxes because I didn’t have to deploy them at church.
    BTW, since both Charles and I have mentioned external antennas, the MR500 doesn’t have an external antenna because it uses MIMO, which employs several antennas to get a stronger signal and higher throughput. I like having an external antena because it gives me the option of increasing the range of the backbone network if I want. So, I guess it would be nice if the MR500 had an external antenna for the 5GHz mesh network. 🙂
    Also, Charles mentioned being in Africa, which brought to mind an excellent DIY guide I read recently that’s published by Wireless Africa: http://wirelessafrica.meraka.org.za/wiki/index.php/DIY_Mesh_Guide. It advocates using pairs of WRT54GL routers flashed with OpenWRT. Looks like it would be fun to try. 🙂

  8. VERY PLEASED with these! In August 2012 I set up a mesh network using 9 MR500s in a small business that occupies 2 floors in NYC. 7 wired, 2 as wireless repeaters. Very short learning curve, 100% satisfied (which is actually shocking – I’m a tough customer). The ng-r397 firmware on these units has not been upgraded (nor have there been any updates released). There are both private and public SSIDs set up; the public network is speed-limited. I have had NO complaints and very few questions from users. Administration is quite simple using cloudtrax. More importantly, the client is very pleased.

  9. I am very interested in open mesh for a small hotel, but I am very worried about running a 20+ node mesh on a slower bandwidth connection and throttling issues. If anyone could comment on usage and and quality of networking management I would be much appreciated.

    1. Bryan,
      How fast is your bandwidth connection? The MR500 units I am using still have some problems – particularly, the range isn’t that great – I believe this is b/c they are 802.11n units instead of 802.11g. I’m considering upgrading to the OM2P…but our network at its largest is only around 5 nodes. There are several case studies on the open-mesh site about hotels, etc. using larger nodes. You might check some of them and even contact the companies to see how things have worked since then.

      1. Dave,
        I have a feeling I am going to be limited to 50Mbps or less. Probably a business class Comcast connection. I have yet to go on site and see exactly how the buildings are connected but from sat view it looks like distance wouldn’t be a problem as long as i use enough nodes. The building has 94 rooms plus common areas I figured at least a node per 4-5 rooms depending on halls, etc, and a couple more around the lobby area for higher user volume. My biggest worry is that if there are 20+ users connected near the lobby the users farther out on the mesh will not get the same priority as the users near the lobby(closer to node 1).

        1. Bryan,
          The users using more distant nodes will have slower speeds – but I don’t think this will be caused by contention over resources at the source node – rather it will come from the latency that occurs as one has to repeat through an increasing number of nodes the further away from the source node one gets.
          A couple options come to mind:
          1. I’d look at QoS to define what types of traffic get the highest priority. e.g., in a hotel environment you may have someone who is using bittorrent or other P2P software which can easily consume huge amounts of bandwidth. 50 mbps should be sufficient for basic web browsing – and if not too many people are simultaneously using video, for video as well.
          2. You could make a few runs of Cat 5/6 cable – perhaps one to each floor, or every other floor, or just one to the top, etc. This could then be plugged into a node which would cut the distance data needs to be repeated across nodes.

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