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Gigabit Ethernet at Edinboro University of Pennsylvania

Demand for high-speed access to the Internet and other information resources is no longer confined to businesses. Educational institutions must offer similar services to attract high-caliber students. Edinboro University of Pennsylvania (a 585-acre campus that serves a community of 7,200 students, with 2,000 housed in eight residence halls), approached the challenge to deliver Gigabit Ethernet along with telephone and CATV services over standards compliant category 5e cabling to campus residence halls via an innovative vendor partnership.

In today’s competitive college recruiting environment, a robust, high-capacity telecommunications infrastructure is essential to attract high-caliber students. To address this, the university formed a technology advisory board charged with upgrading the campus-wide information networks. A portion of this program called for providing more than 1,400 residence hall rooms with enhanced voice, broadband data, Internet and video services.

The potential financial impact of this project on tuition and fees had to be addressed. RCC Consultants, Inc. was hired by the University to develop this project as a public/private alliance. The alliance concept was an important strategy to minimize the financial impact of the network infrastructure in our residence halls. In addition to stipulating that the primary contractor would deliver a specification-compliant Gigabit Ethernet residence hall network along with performance guarantees, it asked for a creative financing proposal. We wanted to avoid tuition and fee increases, and hoped to recoup our capital investment while gaining a revenue source to help fund upgrades throughout the campus.

It was clear from researching similar projects at other institutions that installing, upgrading or replacing network infrastructure could be expensive, disruptive, difficult, and susceptible to further complications. Trained and experienced installers are needed to perform essential tasks correctly. Because labor costs are frequently a major portion of an investment in a cabling infrastructure installation, upgrade or replacement, doing it right the first time is crucial.

Equally important are decisions on selecting system components, especially those that support the demanding requirements of Gigabit Ethernet. With standards rapidly changing, cabling and component selections can be confusing, even for the most experienced designers and specifiers, who must sort through conflicting or misleading claims by equipment vendors. Throughput and performance depend on all components working smoothly together. It has been demonstrated, for instance, that problems with substandard links are frequently traced to cabling and connector hardware that are not properly balanced or matched. To address these concerns, educational institutions that are planning campus-wide network upgrades should require that their network installers utilize third party performance data supplied by independent test agencies such as UL, ITS and The Tolly Group to verify all performance claims for the recommended network components.

The Residence Halls Project

Prime contractor Williams Communications Systems and installation subcontractor Miller Information Systems (MIS), both of Pittsburgh, PA, were hired to complete the upgrade project for the residence halls. Working with General Cable and Hubbell Premise Wiring agent Strategic Associates of Belle Vernon, PA, Williams and MIS installed the ClearBIT solution to provide Gigabit Ethernet connectivity for data services and Internet access in residence hall rooms. We selected this system based on a variety of factors. These included the third-party performance data, installer knowledge of product, availability of product, and overall installed cost. After evaluating the performance data, it was evident that the system was capable of delivering the required bandwidth necessary to support applications such as Gigabit Ethernet. We felt extremely comfortable with the fact that our contractors were familiar with the products and had positive experiences in installing the ClearBIT system.

MIS used a combination of Hubbell SPEEDGAIN HD5E jacks, patch panels and patch cords, along with racks and raceway products, and General Cable PlatinumPLUS 350 MHz Category 5e cables to complete the residence hall data cabling project on time and within budget. Each two-student room has two category 5e Internet data jacks, a coaxial port for access to the campus CATV network and a Category 3 voice jack for telephone service. In addition, Williams provided all voice and data network equipment including a Nortel Networks Meridian 1, Option 81C PBX, Cisco main and edge data switches, Digital Satellite CATV services, long distance phone service and high-speed Internet service. The entire residence hall project was completed over the summer of 2000.

The Financing Package

The proposal addressed financing in an innovative manner that partnered Williams with the University in what is called the Alliance Project. Williams invested $1.5 million into the $3.8 million residence hall network upgrade. In return, the company received a 10-year contract under which it is the sole provider of all long distance, CATV, high speed Internet, PBX and data network services to students. Profits from these services are split 50-50 with the University as a means of recovering capital investments made by both parties. Williams also runs the campus technology store, where students can purchase computers, computer equipment and peripherals, phones, prepaid calling cards and services.

Students benefit from the program because they are able to choose only the services they want, rather than being forced to pay blanket technology fees for services they may not want or need. They can select from a variety of in-room connectivity products, including CATV, Gigabit Ethernet data connections and long distance services. Off-campus students have access to these services via modems. Moreover, the student body has enthusiastically accepted the program. We estimate that 70% have purchased CATV, 66% have purchased high-speed Internet access services, and all are using the long-distance services. The ClearBIT solution has met every expectation in throughput and reliability, and is the solution of choice as we go forward with additional network upgrades. Perhaps best of all, the Alliance Project started turning a profit within three weeks of operation without raising tuition and technology fees.

By conclusively proving the ClearBIT solution to be in compliance with all applicable published and proposed standards, Hubbell Premise Wiring and General Cable provided Edinboro University of Pennsylvania with a warranty stating that for a period of 25 years from the date of installation, the ClearBIT system will:

  • Be free from defects in material and workmanship
  • Exceed applicable TIA/EIA and ISO/IEC channel specification in effect at the time of installation
  • Support any current or future applications designed to operate over the appropriate structured cabling systems, as defined by TIA/EIA and ISO/IEC at the time of installation
  • Provide guaranteed PSACR (Power Sum Attenuation-to-Crosstalk Ratio) headroom based on the ClearBIT worst case guaranteed value detailed in the warranty statement in effect at time of installation
  • Be free from Bit Errors as defined by the IEEE 802.3ab Standard.
Karen Murdzak,
Director of Networks and Telecommunications
Edinboro University of Pennsylvania

This article originally appeared in the 06/01/2001 issue of THE Journal.

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