Enterprise can get valuable information about the coverage and performance characteristics of commercial wireless networks serving their mobile workers in a given area via Locality, a network-performance software solution from NetMotion Wireless that became generally available on Wednesday.

Information-technology professionals in enterprises are accustomed to using network-performance software solutions and service-level-agreement reports from carriers to monitor wired connectivity to remote offices, but such tools have not been available to monitor the performance of commercial wireless networks, said Andy Willett, NetMotion's senior vice president for sales and marketing.

"The cellular network has become mission-critical to a lot of these organizations, and you could argue that — in some ways — the cellular network is more mission-critical than a lot of these remote offices, from the perspective that these are frontline workers that are dealing with your core infrastructure … and are dealing with customers," Willett said.

"Unlike that wired side, you really have no visibility into that network — what's happening from a coverage perspective or what carrier might work better for me? I can do drive testing, but that's just a spot check in time. At the end of the day, I really don't know what kind of coverage and network connectivity my workers are getting."

The Locality solution is designed to change that paradigm by gathering connectivity information from each device every 5 seconds and transmitting that data back to the enterprise every 30 minutes for reporting purposes. This information lets network managers make key decisions — from which device to buy to what carrier to use — based on tangible data, instead of which user in the enterprise complains or compliments the loudest, Willett said.

"What we hear from customers is that they end up making a lot of these decisions based on anecdotal information that they collect from their field users, and that's really not the way to run a mission-critical deployment," he said. "The idea behind Locality is, 'Let's provide the same kind of visibility into that cellular network that network-performance-management tools and application-performance-management tools are performing for your wired network.'"

In addition to helping evaluate network performance, the Locality solution — already tested by selected users, such as the Mesa (Ariz.) Police Department and Amica Insurance — also allows network managers to spot other issues. For instance, upon noting drastically different data rates for users driving in different directions at the same location, an enterprise realized that a vehicle's siren was shielding the antenna from the base-station signal coming from certain directions, so the antenna was repositioned, Willett said.

Amica Insurance has realized similar value from Locality, according to Greg Saugy, senior network operations specialist for Amica.

"When one of our field agents tells us they're having a connection or coverage issue in the field, we need to be able to quickly fix the situation," Saugy said in a prepared statement. "Locality's performance information helps us get to the root of the problem fast. Minimizing an employee's downtime is essential to keeping our customers happy."

NetMotion Wireless is best known for its Mobility XE mobile VPN offering, but Locality is an independent product that does not have to be used in conjunction with Mobility XE, Willett said.

The current version of Locality works only with a Windows operating system, but support of Android devices is expected to be released by the end of the year, Willett said. The cost of a single Locality license is $80 per device, but the unit pricing decreases when multiple licenses are ordered, he said.