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NetMotion's WLAN Sheriff

UPDATED: There's a new wireless local area network (WLAN) sheriff on patrol in Aurora, Colo., the Port of Seattle and Orlando. Other municipalities may well be watching to see how it does sniffing out any and all bandwidth hogs whose recreational surfing activities in municipal wireless networks could impair public safety communications needs.

That sheriff is NetMotion Wireless's Mobility Policy Management system, which helps administrators configure and provision who gets to use how much of a WLAN.

The Seattle-based NetMotion Wireless, which now counts about 275 municipalities as customers out of its base of over 400, is now supplying Policy Management Control tools to the public safety departments of Aurora, the Port of Seattle and Orlando.

The software runs as an add-on module for its flagship NetMotion Mobility XE product, which lets companies control wireless data usage and manage specific workgroups, users and devices.

Like other Policy Management users, explained Aaron Burnett, senior director of marketing for NetMotion Wireless, each new customer relies on wide-area wireless data services from cellular carriers, such as AT&T Wireless, T-Mobile, Sprint and Verizon Wireless. That's in combination with their Wi-Fi (802.11) access networks.

The idea with the policy management module is to provide application-level policy capabilities necessary for IT managers to centrally control application traffic by wireless network type, network speed, employee profile or device, he said.

"We're also assuring that mission-critical applications have security," given that these wireless networks really provide life-saving information for officers in the field, he added.

But the tool also helps keep employees from sucking up the bandwidth for playful uses. A recent IDC report said more than half of the $26.6 million that the typical large U.S. enterprise pays each year for network services is spent on recreational data traffic.

In some customer cases, the needs are as basic as ensuring their data network resources are available at critical times, Burnett added. For others, the Policy Management module choice was all about cost savings, especially for IT managers who have to make field calls themselves to fix laptops riddled with malicious code from "recreational" surfing sessions.

Michael Bedwell, public safety systems manager with Aurora, said before the jurisdiction deployed the Policy Management system, technicians were spending at least three hours, multiple times per week, repairing individual systems due to malicious data downloaded from the Internet.

Bedwell said before Aurora's deployment of the Mobility Policy Management module, indiscriminate use of the Internet by mobile police and fire personnel had caused a 100-fold increase in wireless network traffic. Policy Management reversed that increase about 99 percent.

Beyond the unproductive nature of recreational surfing, in a wireless setting such traffic can quickly usurp available bandwidth, undermine interactive applications and often incapacitate a network, NetMotion officials said.

With this module, the policies are enforced on the client side, which means that bandwidth patrol goes everywhere the workers do -- and in some cases, even helps police the fire and police.

Updates prior version to correct spelling of Aaron Burnett