WLANs Headed For the Dollar Store?

By Ed Sutherland | Posted July 16, 2004
Full Mesh, a startup company that uncloaked from stealth mode in January (and despite the name, doesn't have anything to do with mesh networking technology), is offering its first fully managed WLAN designed for business — both big and small.

Two categories of wireless customers stand to benefit. Small companies with 75 or less employees could finally afford a managed wireless network. Also, large enterprises with between 2,000 and 3,000 employees could turn to Full Mesh as a way to alleviate the workload on already-strained IT staffs.

How They Did It
The company says it can offer such low prices due in part to the previous tech downturn. "We took advantage of the hardware crash to buy hardware at low cost," says Bill Bullock, the company's co-founder.

"We provide everything a company needs to deploy a secure wireless LAN in days, not months, and with a total ongoing cost that's usually less than a dollar per user per month," says Bullock.

All Full Mesh equipment is standard, brand named gear: Proxim access points pre-configured for 802.11x standards and 802.11i security. APs pre-integrated into a centrally managed system that includes Cisco routers and Red-M monitoring with RADIUS authentication. According to Bullock, this gives customers an advantage over proprietary options, should the management company go under. "You can replace us," says Bullock." With the others, you're stuck."

Talk by vendors of one-touch WLAN management or "instant WLAN just isn't true," says Steven Shippa, co-founder of Full Mesh. Bullock agrees, saying "the benefits of a pre-configured outsourced managed WLAN solution are undeniable."

But Will it Play in Peoria?
Although the company has only two customers so far, it's already tweaking the WLAN management model.

"We may be a bit ahead of our time with a managed model," says Bullock. The company has already heard from customers asking for "a bit more control." Bullock and Shippa are beefing up the power of the secure Web portal customers used to manage end-users. "The simpler you make something for people, the more you increase its adoption," says Bullock. For small businesses in particular, deciding what software, hardware and services to include in a business WLAN is "pretty confusing stuff."

As for the company's next step, Full Mesh plans to work with Red-M to introduce managed wireless intrusion detection. While testing the monitoring system, Full Mesh discovered and fixed a bug in the security probe service.

"It's scary that a fifty-dollar access point can compromise tens of thousands of dollars spent on network security, but that is the world we live in now," says Shippa.

"Hackers using antennas made of Pringles containers, whiskey tins and coffee cans are locking onto Wi-Fi networks 25 miles away," says Bullock. "Everyone knows you have to lock this stuff down."

Adapted from wi-fiplanet.com.

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