Florida University Deploys Optical Wireless Solution

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Barry University, located in southern Florida, relies on state-of-the-art communications to link the main campus in Miami Shores with its NAP (Network Access Point) of the Americas collocation (www.napoftheamericas.net) and 28 other campuses and satellite locations throughout the state - sharing online courses as well as vital registration and administrative data. In keeping with the university’s purpose to provide students with the highest level of quality education, its Division of Information Technology (DoIT) deployed a fully switched network environment with a Gigabit Ethernet backbone. Now, faculty and students are tied together through a variety of wide area network (WAN), local area network (LAN) and virtual private network (VPN) solutions.

However, continual expansion at the Miami Shores site created the need to extend the campus LAN to encompass two additional buildings outside of the university’s grounds and across city streets. Since connecting remote buildings to the campus LAN via fiber was cost-prohibitive, the DoIT team installed a Wi-Fi bridge to link the additional facilities. At first, the Wi-Fi bridge (based on 802.11b technology) was the answer. But when we began to experience reliability and performance problems, the DoIT team realized that 5-6 Mbps throughput on the Wi-Fi bridge delivered insufficient bandwidth. Thus, the university needed greater bandwidth and improved performance to meet its growing network requirements.

The Challenge

A campuswide move to an IP telephony system placed additional bandwidth constraints on overall network performance. Uneven reliability exacerbated the performance problems, prompting the university to explore other wireless alternatives. Jeff Majeski, now system sales manager for Crystal Communications (a systems integrator and value-added reseller), still remembers the first meeting: “Barry University wanted to leverage its Gigabit Ethernet network backbone and provide wireless broadband to the remote sites at 100 Mbps speeds.”

To that end, the university looked at
a wireless LAN (WLAN) bridge from a company that specializes in wireless networking equipment for Wi-Fi and broadband wireless networks to deliver the required bandwidth. Upon Majeski’s recommendation, they compared this company’s WLAN bridge to an optical wireless product from LightPointe Communications (www.lightpointe.com). Based on free-space optics (FSO) technology, the LightPointe FlightLite FL155 offered improved performance at a more appealing price.

Searching for Greater Value

According to Majeski, since only 450 feet separated the first building from the campus LAN, Barry University had an ideal optical wireless LAN connectivity application. “[The FlightLite] provides fiber-like bandwidth for highly economical point-to-point communications over short distances, typically up to 500 meters,” Majeski explains. “The FlightLite system could carry up to 155 Mbps of bandwidth through the air via line of sight to bridge the university’s LAN very economically.”

An ensuing features and benefits analysis between the two connectivity platforms resulted in LightPointe surpassing the competing company as the optimal method for extending our university’s campus LAN. Not only did the FlightLite deliver up to 155 Mbps of full-duplex bandwidth in comparison to the 100 Mbps rival bridge, but the license-free optical wireless system was completely immune from radio interference, making it a more secure alternative.

Perhaps the most compelling argument, however, was in analyzing price-per-bit differences between the two solutions. The LightPointe optical wireless product offered higher bandwidth at half the total cost of the competing WLAN bridge, giving us far greater value. When compared to Wi-Fi and other radio-based alternatives (in properly planned and suitable environments) optical wireless clearly provided increased bandwidth that better leveraged the university’s technology budget.

At 9.9 lbs., the compact FlightLite is easy to install and operate, especially since the system is a physical layer 1 transport device that seamlessly connects to network hubs, switches and routers. As a result, the university avoided all the problems and limitations previously experienced with its Wi-Fi bridge.

The Benefits

Barry University reaped immediate benefits from its FlightLite installation. Operation is straightforward and the absence of packet-processing elements makes it simpler to troubleshoot than a Wi-Fi bridge. Most important, the LightPointe system is faster and more dependable than its Wi-Fi predecessor. In fact, the LightPointe optical wireless system is 20 times faster than the university’s previous Wi-Fi bridge.

Our university easily maintains 99% network availability with its FSO solution, whereas the radio solution was up only 85% of the time. And since Miami Shores is a coastal area prone to tropical storms and heavy rain, the university’s DoIT team kept the old Wi-Fi bridge in place as a backup for the LightPointe gear. But despite strong storms that have moved through the area, the university has rarely needed to use the radio as an alternate because the LightPointe optical wireless solution continues to perform flawlessly.

Since installing its first optical wireless system several years ago, Barry University has deployed two more FlightLite units in order to extend the campus LAN to include additional remote buildings. In the long run, LightPointe’s highly economical FlightLite optical wireless products provide a flexible foundation accommodating continual growth, while ensuring our university stays connected to mission-critical applications.

This article originally appeared in the 03/01/2005 issue of THE Journal.

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