Mesh++ S618 - Self-contained Solar Powered Mesh WiFi

Mesh++ S618 - Self-contained Solar Powered Mesh WiFi

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Solar-powered wireless is not a new concept. I mean, I've personally done a number of videos on solar-powered wifi dating back as far as 2017. I love the idea of using solar power to stand up access points in remote locations, bringing the internet where it's needed.

But it's always kind of messy, right? Like you've got all of the solar components that have to be wired together properly. You've got a bunch of different options for your internet connection. You've got to add enough battery power to keep the equipment running and everything has to be encapsulated into weather-resistant enclosures that are gonna last for years.

And all of that doesn't include the actual networking you have to do, which is its own separate learning curve. Enter Mesh++. This innovative new product is designed to be a fully-contained solution for providing wifi anywhere. Mesh++ brings together internet, client wireless, and power into a rugged form factor that's simple to use and easy to deploy in even the most remote locations.

And they're doing it for a good cause. Let's dig in and take a look. Did you know that Crosstalk Solutions provides complete network design, deployment, and support services for businesses of all sizes? That's right, if you're in need of any services related to networking, wifi, long-range wireless, network security, or anything in between, be sure to contact Crosstalk Solutions for expert service provided at a fair price. You won't be disappointed.

The goal of Mesh++ is to enable anyone to deploy last-mile infrastructure by automating as much of the setup and maintenance as possible. This in turn reduces the technological barrier to entry, which may otherwise prevent internet entrepreneurs from delivering connectivity to underserved areas. Now all of this is done by focusing on speed and simplicity of deployment over feature set. These units are by design very easy to install and operate without the overkill of confusing settings that may require a stronger learning curve. Right here we have the S618. This is Mesh++'s flagship product.

The casing is IP67 waterproof and it's designed to be either pole-mounted or VESA-mounted along with an attached solar panel. Inside the case is an MPPT solar charge controller and a 1.2 kilowatt-hour battery that's designed to keep the mesh node online for five to 10 days without additional power input. The S16 can either be powered by a 60-watt USB-C cable, which basically just means you can plug it into a wall outlet if you want, but it's also designed to be powered up with solar.

Now the default solar panel here is 75 watts, but this can be upgraded to a 100-watt solar panel if you need more power or if you need more uptime. In my testing with the solar panel, just kind of sitting outside on the ground and not really ideally placed to receive the optimal amount of sunlight, the battery capacity of the S618 only dropped about four to 5% every night before it started charging up again the following day. So let's take a closer look at this setup. First, I have the Mesh++ configured to output 24-volt passive PoE, which is powering up this NanoStation M5 receiving antenna. So imagine that you have the Mesh++ like way up on top of a mountain or in some remote location where it can receive point-to-point or point-to-multipoint connectivity.

Now this is gonna be super helpful in cases where you don't have LTE coverage. So in this case, I've got an access point shooting a signal over to this receiving station right here, 24-volt passive PoE powered by the S618, and then the S618 is in turn outputting client wireless to any devices that happen to be within range. Now keep in mind that the name of this company is Mesh++, right? These units are designed to be simple to use and easily deployable.

This really comes into view when you have multiple mesh nodes. You only need that internet connectivity to one of the nodes. All subsequent units that are brought online are designed to automatically create a mesh network. So imagine you're trying to provide Wi-Fi coverage to like a whole park or a campground or something. You can use Mesh++' network design tool to determine where you need to place mesh nodes for full coverage. Then you simply add each node to that same network in the Mesh++ interface, deploy them out in the field, and now your mesh network is complete.

And only one of those mesh nodes needs internet, which is automatically fed out to the other mesh nodes once they come online. If you lose any of the nodes, all of the other nodes are there to pick up the slack and keep the internet going. Okay, let's run a quick speed test with this setup right here. I have connected to the wireless network being out pulsed by the S618, here we go. Okay, and we ended up with 92.7 megabits down

and 40.8 megabits up. Now 40 megabits is my maximum upload of my internet connection, so we max that out. 92.7 megabits, however, is far under the capacity of the S618.

Now why did it cap at just under 100 megabits? Well, the NanoStation M5 only has 100 megabit NIC, so this is the bottleneck in that sort of speed test with this setup that I've got right here. Let's try plugging internet directly into the S618, not going through this wireless bridge. For this test, I have the T-Mobile home internet gateway plugged into the S618 directly, and it's working just fine. I can see everything in the Mesh++ interface, and you can see that we have blue LEDs indicating that the Mesh++ node is functioning as an ethernet gateway. Okay, now running a speed test in this configuration, let's go ahead and run it now. All right, and with the T-Mobile home internet gateway plugged directly into the S618, we're getting 105 megabit download and 10 megabit upload.

Now, of course, that varies a lot because this is a 5G internet device, but yeah, not too bad. The third way that you can supply internet to the S618 is with an LTE or 5G SIM card. In order to install the LTE SIM card, you have to pull the guts out of the casing, so this is a great excuse to take a look inside. Before we crack it open, though, you're gonna notice that there are some LEDs here on the case. These are status LEDs for the node. Depending on the color of the LEDs, you can see at a glance how it's configured.

Blue LEDs means that it's functioning as an ethernet gateway. Green LEDs means that it's a Mesh node only, and purple LEDs means that it has LTE connectivity. When you're charging the node with solar, the LEDs will also blink slow or fast depending on how much charge is being put into the unit. The S618 is designed to be easily field serviceable, which means when it's strapped onto a pole or a tree, it's gonna be much easier to open the node than when the case is not secured down, like when it's on my desk here, but we are gonna try to get it open anyways. There's some lubrication inside to help the node slide in and out of the case easier, and also to help with waterproofing, so definitely recommend wearing gloves if you crack this thing open. All right, to get it open, there is a little crank over here on the side, so I'm gonna pull the power out, which is actually gonna disconnect my ethernet as well, but you just sort of open up the crank, give it a couple of counterclockwise spins, and then you can push on the other side, and it should start to come out of the casing.

Okay, there we go. Let me stand up, this will be easier. All right, there we go. Okay, put this down on some cardboard so I don't ruin my mat here, and there we have it. Now that we have the S618 open, let's take a look around at some of the innards.

They have crammed a ton of functionality into this relatively small case. Now, on the bottom here, we have two separate batteries. Up towards the front, there's also an MPPT solar charge control.

This is a heat sink right on top to dissipate heat coming off of the main PCB, and right underneath this heat sink is where we have space for two SIM cards. That's right, two SIM cards, so you can have two different LTE connections for redundancy. It also has Bluetooth 5.2 for configuring the device locally through the app, and it can output two-by-two Wi-Fi in both the 2.4 and five gigahertz band. You can then optionally upgrade to a four-by-four Wi-Fi 6E access point as well.

When it's functioning as a mesh node, the distance between neighboring nodes is up to 400 feet or 122 meters, but there's also N-type connectors on the side, and you can attach antennas to extend the range to upwards of 1,000 feet or 300 meters, assuming that you have line of sight to the neighboring nodes. Just imagine what you could do with a bunch of these S618s. Now, let's say you're out in the middle of nowhere, right? You're able to get LTE connectivity to one of the nodes, so you connect up the LTE node, and then you spread out the rest of the nodes to provide Wi-Fi to whatever area you need covered. These nodes are automatically gonna create a mesh network together, and they will all use the internet connectivity from the main LTE gateway node. All of the nodes are solar-powered, and so now you start to get a clear picture of the power of this solution.

All right, so the LTE SIM card has been installed. I can tell that it's working because the LEDs have turned purple, and I also attached these two N-type antennas up to the top here. So what we have now is a fully self-contained unit. This is everything that you need. This receives an LTE signal, and then rebroadcast that out as Wi-Fi for clients. So you hook a solar panel up to this thing, put it out in the middle of nowhere, and now you've got a device that's just gonna last for ages and provide solid Wi-Fi coverage.

But then you can really take it to the next level when you add additional mesh nodes that don't have the LTE connectivity. They just phone home to this one and extend this wireless network for as many nodes as you need. So let's go ahead and do that next. I now have the second node in the same network. It was super, super simple to set up. You simply open the Mesh++ app, you connect to the node with Bluetooth, you add it to whichever network you want it to be a member of, and it automatically joins and meshes up.

So now we have my LTE node at the other side of my property, about 75 feet away. That is pulling in an LTE signal, broadcasting out Wi-Fi. This one is piggybacking on that Wi-Fi network and then rebroadcasting Wi-Fi to any clients that are closest to this device.

Now I've verified through the app that my client device, my smartphone here, is connected to this node, so the far side from the LTE connected node on the other side of my yard. And let's run a speed test from here. And go. And this speed test showed us 32 megabits down by 23 megabits up. Now imagine you're in the middle of nowhere.

You're gonna be very happy with that connection. Let's now take a quick tour through the Mesh++ Cloud dashboard. So the dashboard is available at When you first log in, you're gonna see how many networks you have, how many nodes in your entire infrastructure, as well as how many users. And then down the left-hand side, we have our various networks. I only have two networks in this example.

We have captive portals. If you wanna set up a captive portal for people who are connecting to your Wi-Fi, alerts, help, and the ability to report any issues. If we scroll down a bit, we can see our two different networks, kind of a overview, or we can see how many active nodes, how many connected users, as well as the bandwidth.

If we click into one of those networks, here we get some more useful information, such as some network graphs up top. We have network overview, gateway capacity, as well as gateway utilization. And you can also individually select any one of the nodes to take a look at details there. Over on the right, we can see the number of clients that are connected to this particular network. And down below, we can create and modify our various SSIDs.

Scrolling down a bit, we get a map of where these mesh nodes are located. Each one of them does have a GPS on board, so this populates automatically. And then if we click on an individual node, we have the ability to edit the node, reboot it, delete it, or change the firmware. If we scroll all the way to the bottom, we have our input power. And if you select a particular node that is solar powered, you can see the battery percentage, that's this gray line up here at the top, as well as the input power from the solar panels.

Now we can see here, for instance, we have input power of about 40 watts. Then I had moved it to a location that wasn't ideal, and it cut that in half, and then eventually I moved it back to where we were getting full sun on that solar panel. The Mesh++ S618 is a relatively new device, and this is my first exposure to this particular model. So I have not seen the evolution of the model up till now, but I did want to give some constructive feedback for ways that I feel this device can be improved in subsequent versions.

Physically, so about the physical device itself, I mean, again, there isn't much to it, so there's not really a ton to talk about, but one of the things that I did not like about the S618 is the little add-on USB ethernet connector board. The design of that board, it's a little bit difficult to attach to the unit, and it just feels a little bit like it comes apart very easily, and I just feel like that design can be improved somehow. As part of that board, when you plug in an ethernet cable, it connects to the S618 with a USB Type-C cable that's actually directional, right? So you have to have it oriented the correct way, and since you have to have it oriented the correct way, it's a little bit confusing exactly which way it's supposed to go. They say just orient it up, right? But it's a cylinder, so up could be kind of any direction.

It's a little bit, that could be made a lot clearer. In addition, they marked the USB Type-C cable with a blue dot so that you know which direction is the sort of upside of the cable for orienting it properly. But in my case, just in my testing outside, that little blue dot kind of wore off pretty easily.

So now I don't have any sort of reference for which side of that USB cable is supposed to be the correct orientation, and so I can see that causing some confusion. There needs to be a better solution for that blue dot. Other than that, the only super minor gripe that I have with the case physically is that when you slide the unit in, it's made to be able to slide into the case in either direction, right? It works on both sides. But when you do slide it in, the LEDs on the PCB inside the unit don't perfectly line up with the little window on the outside of the case. So again, that's just kind of like an OCD gripe of mine.

You can still see all the LEDs just fine. They're just off to the side a little bit, and it's like, I'd love it if that was like, you know, perfectly lined up. As far as the software, as far as the interface, they have a smartphone app, they have a cloud dashboard that you can get to with a browser. Both of those have basically equivalent functionality. You can kind of do the same stuff in either interface.

The smartphone app is more for like the initial adoption and connecting with Bluetooth to the mesh nodes. But the design of the software, and this is on purpose, right? This is a by design design. They tried to make it as simple as humanly possible so that someone who doesn't have a network background like myself would be able to take these devices, you know, connect it up with the app, put it out where it's gonna go, hook a solar panel up to it, and it's gonna start working just fine. They designed it to be as simple as possible so that anyone can set these up, which is great because it reduces the barrier to entry for people that want to deploy this, you know, in like underserved areas and whatnot.

However, there's a couple of things that I wish as a network guy, I could see about the nodes. For instance, it doesn't seem like there's any way where you can actually see which IP addresses were given out to the devices. Like you can't actually see the IP addresses of the nodes, which again, doesn't really matter because everything's kind of DHCP, but as a network guy, I just like to be able to see that information. Another thing that I would love to see is that one of my nodes has the 24 volt passive PoE output. That's how I was able to power up that NanoStation M5 that received the signal over, you know, a point-to-point wireless.

I would love to see a way to enable and disable the 24 volt passive PoE, because it's possible that you can take that 24 volt passive and plug it into some sort of device that can't kind of auto sense or deal with that power. And you could potentially fry a device, right? So it would be great if the 24 volt passive PoE was a selectable option within the interface that you could enable and disable. And these types of things, right? These little things like the insights into the deeper levels of networking of these devices can actually be handled pretty easily if they would just add something like advanced mode, right? So the interface by itself is super basic, but then for someone like me that likes to see all the geeky, you know, networking bells and whistles, have a little toggle switch for advanced mode that shows me more information and allows me to make changes that might not otherwise be available in a, you know, standard mode or simple mode interface.

So then what are my overall thoughts about Mesh++ and this device in particular? Well, first of all, I'd say that for a startup company, they've come out with a pretty polished device, both in terms of ease of use, as well as like the fit and finish of the physical product. The philosophy of Mesh++ is to provide wifi anywhere. This product is designed to be simple and easy to deploy for anyone who needs wireless coverage in areas that may otherwise have no internet connectivity at all. I mean, is it the fastest internet that I've ever dealt with? Of course not, right? But it's not designed for speed and performance. It's designed to deliver wifi where it's needed.

It's not made so that you can stream Netflix from your RV. It's made to provide internet access for kids in a remote school, far away from any terrestrial internet service, right? It's designed to bring free wifi to parks and campgrounds and public meeting spaces all over the world. And in that aspect, I would say that Mesh++ is a success. Back in 2018, a production company hired us to fly out to Indonesia to set up wifi across a two mile stretch of remote island shoreline for a TV show called Castaways.

The whole setup was done with solar panels and batteries, mesh access points, and point-to-multi-point antennas. It was a huge project that took an enormous amount of planning and organization, and it was still a gigantic pain in the butt to get working due to the terrain, as well as the difficulty of working with so many different types of equipment. Thinking back on that project, it makes me really wish that we had Mesh++ as an option back then.

It would have saved us so much time and effort and could have possibly even been done without us having to fly halfway around the world to set it up. So I absolutely love this product for that type of project, and I'm very excited to see how Mesh++ changes the way we deploy wifi in the coming years by enabling network novices to deploy wifi anywhere. All right, if you would like to keep this party going, I have hand selected a couple of videos on the right here for you to watch next. The first video is my two days spent in Florida doing Hurricane Ian disaster relief with the ITDRC, an organization who could make really good use of a product like Mesh++.

And the bottom video is our Castaways live stream where we discussed that Indonesian island wifi project in great detail.

2023-06-02 01:50

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