March 17, 2003
By Galen Gruman, editorial director, IT Wireless
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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 university needed to use access points that have both Mac and PC drivers, which most vendors don't have, Marselian says. But Cisco does, so he standardized on its access points. There are 20 Cisco AP1200 access points deployed now, at a cost of about $600 apiece, with 10 more expected by year's end. The access points are also upgradable to 802.11a and 802.11g.
  • The Cisco access points didn't support roaming well, however -- for example, passing a user from one access point to another also overwrites settings such as the wireless channel used, "something that you definitely don't want" -- so Marselian needed to look elsewhere for traffic management, ultimately choosing ReefEdge's Connect Server wireless router.
  • The use of that router also had the benefit of keeping all wireless traffic on a virtual LAN, which greatly simplifies network administration, Marselian says. Using a virtual LAN cost only a quarter of what the common virtual private network (VPN) approach would have, he says, and didn't require additional personnel to manage.
  • Marselian hired a firm, Starnet Data Design, to map out the access point locations and help integrate the wireless network with the university's wired network. As user density increases, Zarelian will add more access points to keep traffic loads under the access points' limits. Starnet also trained his staff on how to map radio locations for future access point deployment and to detect rogue access points.

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.

Got deployment experience and lessons to share? Let us know at

From our editors


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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:

  • Verizon Wireless has agreed to let Airdesk offer multitiered pricing plans for machine-to-machine, telematics, and telemetry data-only transfer over its cellular network. This should make it easier for logistics, transportation, automotive, utilities, and other industries (such as energy exploration) to connect remote devices and sensors to central operations.
  • Sony Ericsson is offering the M2mpower Business Solution, which is designed to facilitate the development of wireless machine-to-machine applications onto compatible Sony Ericsson M-to-M products. The scripting language is based on the industry-standard ANSI C language.

Other recent developments of note:

  • Symbol Technologies has released the PDT 8037 and PDT 8056, two rugged handheld computers featuring GPRS wide-area network communications, aimed at logistics applications throughout the supply chain, especially route accounting and field service automation. The PDT 8056 also supports 802.11b wireless LANs.
  • Inventel is offering wireless access points and gateways that have both 802.11 and Bluetooth built in, as well as wired Ethernet and USB jacks.
  • ZyXel has released its ZyAir family of wireless routers, access points, and client hardware. It offers 802.1x authentication.
  • RAD Data Communications has entered the wireless market with the launch of its new AirMux-104T TDM and Ethernet multiplexer. The AirMux-104 point-to-point multiplexer aggregates E1 and Ethernet traffic over a 2.6Mbps full-duplex link, extending data/voice transmission up to 10 miles. It can transmit Ethernet or E1 traffic, or a combination of fractional E1 and Ethernet traffic, using W-CDMA spectrum.
  • Columbitech will release by July its Wireless Suite Retail Edition, which lets DOS-based wireless devices used by retailers for inventory management move from one access point or cellular data cell to another without having to log back in. The software keeps the sessions active as users move from access point to access point or cell to cell, handling the re-login automatically.
  • MarketSoft has added support for the Research in Motion BlackBerry to its Cross Sell Hub sales force automation software, so salespeople can get leads delivered as they occur, rather than needing to log in.
  • Peak Technologies has released its ePOD software, which adds proof-of-delivery tracking and route management to the wireless PDAs with scanners used by logistics and delivery firms.
  • Berkeley Varitronics Systems has added to its product line an 802.11a-based version of its Yellowjacket wireless LAN analysis system, which works with Hewlett-Packard iPaq handhelds. The company has also shipped its Mantis device for detecting Bluetooth signals.
  • AirDefense has updated its AirDefense Guard software for wireless LAN monitoring. Version 3.0 now supports Cisco LEAP and 802.1x authentication and hierarchical policy management.
  • GN Netcom has developed a twist on the conference phone: wirelessly enabled headsets that work through an access point. The idea is that people can attend a conference call but not have to sit around a desk and shout at or strain to hear the speakerphone on the table. They can also walk around or go elsewhere (there's a 300-foot typical range) during the call.
  • MaxRad has announced several antenna, including two mobile antenna lines designed for the growing 300MHz Tetra and 700MHz Guard Bands spectrums used in public safety applications. Also announced was a combined GPS/mobile antenna that has a high-gain Global Positioning System antenna and an M-type
    mobile mount compatible with any of MaxRad's mobile antennas in VHF, UHF, 700/800MHz, 900MHz, PCS, and 2.4GHz frequencies.

Got a great product or technology tip? Send it to


The Latest in the Wireless Marketplace

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:

  • Wi-Fi services priced between $10 and $30 per month will attract between 7% and 16% of U.S. households, or as many as 17 million subscribers, assuming one subscriber per household.
  • The optimal price point to maximize revenues is $20 per month, which will generate $3.6 billion per year from 15 million subscribers.
  • Business and professional applications are of more interest than entertainment-related services. More than 60% of likely subscribers are interested in Wi-Fi service to access their enterprise network, exchange email with large file attachments, obtain information with multimedia content, and have general high-speed Internet access, while about 40% would use to the service to download music.
  • Most of the likely subscribers, over 50%, see themselves using a laptop PC or enhanced multimedia cellular phone at Wi-Fi access sites, while much fewer (28%) would use a PDA.
  • Cable operators, wireless network providers, and wireline telephone companies have an opportunity to bundle Wi-Fi with their existing offerings. Among likely subscribers, 17% would buy Wi-Fi if it were bundled with cable modem service, 17% if with DSL service from a telephone company, 20% if with cellular phone service, and 20% if with telephone-company-provided phone service. Fewer prefer Wi-Fi service from an independent Wi-Fi provider (13%) or bundled with dial-up Internet access from an ISP (10%).

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:

  • Yet another study shows that wireless LANs are growing strongly: Global spending on wireless LAN equipment rose 38% to $2.3 billion in 2002, according to Gartner -- that's a total of 15 million adapters and 4.4 million access points and gateways.
  • Also of note, the Mandalay Bay conference center in Las Vegas has installed an 802.11a/b network so exhibitors and attendees can access the Internet wirelessly from the show floor, reducing the need to wire booths for Ethernet. The center installed 80 access points from Intermec Technologies.

For advertising information, contact Manny Sawit at (510) 583-0855 or

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