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Solving Campus Wireless LAN Challenges
Last summer, California Lutheran University found itself in a position where it had to bring in wireless LANs into student dorms. "If we don't do it, students will start providing it," says technical services director Zareh Mareselian. The university also recognizes that most competing institutions are deploying wireless LANs in response to student demand and the rising popularity of laptops. Just as universities were forced to install Ethernet jacks and Internet access in dorms a few years ago, they're now being forced to adopt wireless. But campuses offer several challenges for wireless deployment, since the users and their equipment change frequently.
Marselian anticipates that most students, if not all, will be wirelessly enabled in coming years as wireless connectivity is built into both desktop and notebook PCs. That means Marselian has to build a wireless system that accommodates a wide range of wireless client adapters -- the university can't enforce the use of specific hardware, as it does for its staff, especially as more computers have wireless chips built directly in rather than use an adapter or card.
Marselian would have preferred to use Cisco Systems' LEAP authentication technology to ensure that only staff, faculty, and students were accessing the wireless network, but that requires the use of Cisco client hardware. (He has standardized the university staff and faculty in Cisco client hardware.) So he instead had to use a Radius server to link all the access points and verify the user names and passwords against the wired network's Radius server. (The wireless and wired networks share the same user names and passwords to minimize complexity and user support.)
The university had several other challenges to support a wide range of student equipment and allow roaming across the campus:
The 3,000-student university, based in Thousand Oaks, Calif., midway between Los Angeles and Santa Barbara, began its wireless network rollout with a pilot project in dorms, where some students had already started setting up their own wireless LANs, connected to the Ethernet jacks in each room. (They've been told that they'll have to get rid of those access points once the university's deployment is complete.) The university expcted about 40 students to participate in the pilot deployment, but 120 signed up, says Marselian -- a large percentage of the 300 dorms' laptop users.
All the dorms will be wirelessly enabled this summer, and by end of year, Marselian expects all classrooms, the library, the student union, and the campus café to have 802.11b access -- seven buildings in all. A new dorm whose construction will be completed in 2006 will be wireless, and may not include wired Ethernet jacks. He'd also like to bring wireless access to the university's Kingston Park. Missing in the wireless plans are the administrative offices, for which there yet no business case, Marselian says, since they are already wired and the staff are typically not mobile. The initial phase will cost $45,000, and the complete deployment between $75,000 and $100,000.
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From our editors
THE ESSENTIAL WIRELESS PRODUCT AND SERVICE
The Latest in Wireless Products and Tech
Intel introduced its Centrino processor last week, which combines 802.11b functionality for an all-in-one solution for notebook computer makers. However, multiple media reports indicate that computer makers are not happy with the processor, concerned about relatively poor wireless performance, about becoming further locked into one vendor's technology, and about being locked into 802.11b as other wireless technologies such as 802.11g are poised to debut. (The processor has gotten strong kudos for its processing speed and long battery life.) Intel says it will offer 802.11a/b and 802.11g versions by early next year. Other vendors offer these technologies today, but not integrated with the processor.
Linksys has come out with an innovative product sure to be a boon to sales and marketing staffs. The Instant Wireless Presentation Player lets users with wireless laptop or desktop PCs remotely control and share presentations on multimedia projectors, monitors, LCD panels, or other VGA-compatible devices. The Wireless Presentation Player can be connected to a VGA device for remote projection of Microsoft PowerPoint slides, Excel spreadsheets, Word documents, video, and other PC-based applications and graphics. The player lets multiple users present or edit documents by enabling transmission from multiple wireless laptops or PCs to a single projector without the need to connect and reconnect cables.
While much attention is paid to the human users of wireless technology, connecting devices to each other and to central operations' data systems looks to be a key usage area in the coming years. Two recent develops show activity in this area:
Other recent developments of note:
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We've noted in past issues that T-Mobile's pricing for its Wi-Fi hot-spot network in 2,100 Starbucks cafés and other locations was too expensive to gain widespread adoption. Well, T-Mobile has now lowered its prices. The unlimited national plan now costs $30 per month, down from $50, although it requires an annual contact. A no-contract variant costs $40 per month. For those that want to pay by the hour, T-Mobile has lowered the effective hourly rate from $14.24 to $6, but it now requires an hour minimum rather than the previous 15-minute minimum. This revised pricing better fits customer expectations as revealed in a recent nationwide survey of 1,001 adults by consultancies WirthlinWorldwide, PDS Consulting, and IP Action. Among its findings:
Burger chain McDonalds is now trying out Wi-Fi hot spot service in 10 Manhattan outlets. The pilot program is scheduled to expand to several hundred restaurants in three major U.S. markets by year's end: New York, Chicago, and an undetermined California city. In the current pilot, an hour's worth of access is free with the purchase of a complete meal; otherwise, access costs $3 and is limited to an hour.
In other market developments:
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