Wireless Networks

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Although they are moving at a slower pace than businesses, educational institutions are beginning to use laptops. Students and faculty can connect simply by turning on their machines anywhere on campus. However, wireless LANs are still very much in their infancy. One of the most important stated developments has been the adoption of an IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineering) standard for communication of wireless devices. This may allow interaction and intercommunication between devices made by different manufacturers.

Many technology companies are exploring wireless communication with the hope of emulating Europe, which is said to be a leader in wireless innovation and adoption. Lucent Technologies has launched a $10 million global research program to study the business impact of wireless applications on the Internet. Lucent, which provides network infrastructure to many of the world's carriers, hopes this study will urge carriers to invest more resources in third-generation networks. Boston University of Management will receive $5 million; London Business School and the INSEAD Business School, based in Fontainebleau, France will each receive $2.5 million. The focus of that work will be in vertical markets, such as health care.

Though wireless LANs are being studied in the mobile work force, universities have been running campus-wide pilot projects for a number of years. For example, Johns Hopkins University of Public Health in Baltimore, Md. is working on its second full-scale wireless LAN upgrade. The original wireless LAN pilot with 40 students has grown to 500 students. Upgrading the school's Ethernet LAN would have required wiring the university's 80 year-old buildings and putting in a false floor at a cost of $10,000 per classroom. Also, wiring areas such as the cafeteria, with its huge expanse of windows, would have been impossible. The wireless LAN requires two access points per classroom, each of which includes a radio transmitter, a 10 BASE-T port and encryption software. The access points connect to a hub on the Ethernet LAN.

The following chart substantiates their decision.

 

LAN Cost Comparison

 

Estimates from Johns Hopkins University

School of Public Health

 

Conventional LAN

Fiber Connectivity $3,000

 

Hubs $2,000

 

Raised Floor $10,000

 

In-room Wiring $3,000

 

Total cost

per classroom $18,000

 

Total cost for

40 classrooms $720,000

 

 

Wireless LAN

Data Connection

and Power $1,500

 

2 Access Points . . . $750 per unit

 

Total cost

per classroom $3,000

 

Total cost for:

40 classrooms

2 cafeterias

3 lounges

6 conference rooms

2 auditoriums $210,000

 

 

The Medical Center of Ohio State University has over 400 notebook computers installed with PC cards. It uses its wireless network for a number of business applications, and to maintain and update information.

Early this year, every student and faculty member at Buena Vista University in Storm Lake, Iowa (approximately 1,250 students) was assigned a new laptop with a wireless modem at a cost of $2,000 per laptop and $650,000 for the network. The reasons stated for this decision include:

 

  • Instant access to the Internet from any place on campus
  • Provision for frequent interaction of students with their professors
  • Availability to tap resources anytime, anywhere

 

As stated to me by Paul Bower, director of Teaching and Learning with Technology, "It's not simply a matter of giving everyone access. What we've tried to do is give everybody mobility. Traditionally, there were two wires attached to each computer: one for power, and one for network access. We've eliminated both of those for our students and faculty, and that makes all the difference."

Wireless-enabled laptops, combined with Internet networks, give students instant access to the Internet, wherever they are on campus. In North Carolina, Wake Forest University students have wireless access at 140 sites on campus, including residence halls, lounges, the library and other popular areas. Students pay a fee to go wireless: $80 per semester or $140 a year, in addition to the cost of the laptop and printer included in tuition.

A report issued by the Federal Communications Commission (www.fec.gov) in 1999 stated that 95% of schools would be wired to the Internet by the end of 1999. Schools are now looking at the next step. James R. Scanlon, superintendent of Schools in Quakertown, Pa., is looking toward wireless networking. He wants to eliminate wires in the classroom and provide students and faculty with the capability to communicate anywhere on school property.

We read that wireless carriers, telecommunication and equipment vendors are investing large sums of money into wireless networks so that the tools and utilities used to manage wireless networks become as efficient as those used for wired networks. Wireless is seen as a technical solution that justifies a higher cost where wired services are not present. However, it seems there is more than the technology to worry about. We need to determine how all this "availability" affects the total college life of the student. Also, how do we prepare the faculty member who is to be always accessible? Wireless LANs will put people more in touch with each other, but we need to get them ready for the change.

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