Open-Mesh: The Experience Thus Far.
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.
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 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. 🙁
- 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. 🙁
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).