Aug 18 2009

Wireless in West Chester

Pennsylvania university keeps pace with students' preference for wireless.

For the IT staff at West Chester University of Pennsylvania, there were so many obvious reasons to extend its wireless network that the decision was a no-brainer.

Adel Barimani, West Chester's CIO, says students simply expect wireless today, and wireless infrastructures are less costly and require fewer switches than wired networks.

In fact, Barimani says, the 14,000-student university paid only $150,000 for Aruba gear to cover two residence halls, rather than the $300,000 that a wired infrastructure would have cost. Fewer switches mean the university can save money on its electric bill, which also helps the school meet its sustainability goals.

“The students are very savvy today,” says Barimani. “They are all using notebooks and iPod Touches, and now with Wi-Fi phones hitting the market, we have to keep pace.”

Barimani says once the school is finished rolling out wireless to the dorms, it will build out the wireless network to the academic common areas and additional classrooms. Today, roughly two-thirds of the school's classrooms support wireless connections. The vision is for all dorms, academic common areas and classrooms to support wireless.

Richard Chan, West Chester's assistant director of networking and telecom, says the university is using Aruba M3 controllers that sit in an Aruba 6000-series chassis. The school is also using Aruba AP-125 access points for the dorms and AP-124 units for the outdoor antennas in the common areas.

Chan says the gear supports 802.11a/b/g and Draft N wireless standards. Draft N supports a maximum bandwidth of 300 megabits per second and covers three times the distance of a/b/g, says Chan.

Gartner analyst Tim Zimmerman says West Chester's experience represents a trend among many IT shops, especially on college campuses. Wireless communication for data applications is inexpensive compared with wired networks, and on many campuses 30 percent or more of wired ports go unused. Zimmerman says once university IT staffs make this connection, opting for wireless becomes an easy decision.

“From a student standpoint, many don't even know what an RJ-45 connector is,” Zimmerman adds. “For them, Ethernet in the home is a wireless gateway. Especially for the college kids, notebook computers are required and the use of wireless devices is pervasive.”