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Dollar-Per-User WLAN Management

Are WLANs headed for the dollar store? Reston, Va.-based Full Mesh Networks wants to bring the cost of running your wireless network down to one buck per user.

Full Mesh, a startup company which uncloaked from stealth mode in January (and despite the name, doesn't have anything to do with mesh networking technology), is now offering its first fully managed WLAN designed for enterprises.

The company, founded by two UUNet employees, says it can offer such low prices due in part to the previous tech downturn.

Full Mesh "took advantage of the hardware crash" to buy hardware at low cost, according to Bill Bullock, co-founder of Full Mesh Networks.

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

The platform is aimed at two categories of wireless customers. 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 some of the workload on already-strained IT staffs.

Full Mesh is shipping Proxim access points preconfigured for 802.11x standards and 802.11i security. The APs are pre-integrated into a centrally-managed system which includes Cisco routers and Red-M monitoring with RADIUS authentication.

"You can replace us," says Bullock. The exec says Full Mesh's reliance on standard gear gives customers an advantage over proprietary options, should the management company go under. "With the others, you're stuck," Bullock charges.

Talk by vendors of one-touch WLAN management or "instant WLAN just isn't true," says Steven Shippa, co-founder of Full Mesh.

The benefits of a preconfigured outsourced managed WLAN solution is "undeniable," believes Bullock.

Although the company has only two customers so far, Full Mesh is 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, the more you increase its adoption," says Bullock. Making the decision of what software, hardware and services to include in an enterprise WLAN is "pretty confusing stuff."

Traditional paths to establishing and maintaining WLANs are fraught with "so many choices, too much techno-jargon, and unjustifiably high costs," according to Bullock. A fan of Apple computers, he wants to turn a confusing experience into something a bit more intuitive. Full Mesh competes with companies like Wireless Security Corp for the managed WLAN dollar, and wants to create an Apple-like sense of simplicity.

Still, Bullock is a bit concerned about modeling the company after Apple Computer, since the Cupertino, Calif.-based computer maker counts less than three percent of computer users among its customers.

The next step for Full Mesh is introducing managed wireless intrusion detection with Red-M. While testing the monitoring system, Full Mesh discovered and fixed a bug in the security probe service.

"It's a scary thing 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," said 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."