Carnegie Mellon Links Up With LightPointe's Optical Wireless Technology to Serve Off-Campus Building

For Carnegie Mellon University, expanding its campus with additional buildings across the street was a promising venture. While extension and growth were natural steps, the task of widening the school's network to the new buildings did not seem as simple until administrators discovered LightPointe's free-space optics (FSO) technology.

Located in Pittsburgh, Pa., Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) prides itself on being a pragmatic institution that adapts rapidly to change. Building on a tradition of setting the standard for education technology, CMU pioneered the "Andrew" computing network (named after industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie) in the 1980s to link all of its computers and workstations on campus.

When the task of linking a remote building to the metropolitan campus came about, administrators knew that they needed to search for an alternative solution. They also were aware that the private network connectivity that the university had been deploying would not work across the congested city streets that separated the main campus from the satellite building. Upon researching their dilemma, CMU administrators found that they had a few alternative options that provided additional benefits over traditional fiber-optic cabling.

"We now have other options for connecting off-campus locations that save both time and money over traditional fiber installations," says Larry Gallagher, manager of data communications and computing services at CMU.

One of those options was Corning Cable System's FreeLink product line - free-space optics (FSO) equipment powered by LightPointe technology - which delivers voice and data connectivity up to 2.5 Gbps at distances up to 4,000 meters through air via line of sight. This means that CMU administrators were able to add a wireless component to their current wired network in order to serve the off-campus buildings. The benefits of the FSO-based optical wireless technology extend beyond monetary savings to include time savings as well, because the installation of the FSO system required only half an afternoon compared to fiber deployment that would have taken a full month.

CMU started out with a single deployment of an FSO-based optical wireless solution for a lone building that was being moved off campus. As with any new technology, CMU administrators wanted to make sure that this new implementation could stand up to their networking requirements.

"Our intent was to evaluate its performance and decide whether we would add this to our bag of tricks for future deployments," says Gallagher. As it turned out, within a few months, a second off-campus building was designated for campus use, and Gallagher decided to go with LightPointe's FSO-based optical wireless technology again. "Due to our confidence in the LightPointe FSO already installed, we decided to add a second one."

Overall, the FSO-based optical wireless products are working well for CMU. "We have been using LightPointe's FSO systems for about 18 months now, and we are extremely pleased with both the performance and with the company itself," says Gallagher. Best of all, LightPointe's FSO-based optical wireless technology is utterly versatile, according to Gallagher, capable of handling everything from office work to distance learning: "I would say that [the FSO-based optical wireless technology] is capable of supporting any networking needs that an educational environment would have."

Top 5 Benefits of Using FSO Technology in Education

  1. Easy to install and maintain.
  2. Low up-front cost with no ongoing fees.
  3. Flexibility to fit most situations.
  4. Requires no prior special knowledge.
  5. Works with current networking systems. · (858) 643-5200

This article originally appeared in the 06/01/2004 issue of THE Journal.

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