MATTHEW BARBER is Network and Systems Manager at Morrisville State College in Morrisville, N.Y., which in 2007 became one of the first colleges to deploy 802.11n wireless enterprisewide.

Feb 06 2012

Why Wi-Fi Networks Make Sense

Upstate New York college goes fully wireless.

College IT departments looking to deliver the 21st Century Campus may want to think about building a fully wireless network.

Most colleges need wired connections for high-bandwidth engineering and CAD applications at ­research centers and student labs. But today's students expect Wi-Fi — and there are powerful economic and educational reasons to head in that direction.

In the past, a typical wiring closet in a building on the ­Morrisville State College campus required three or four 48-port switches, each of which cost about $5,000. Today, with wireless, we need only one or two switches. For classrooms, we no longer have to run network ports to every desk. All we need are one or two ports for a printer and the wireless access points. In our typical residence hall, providing a port per pillow could easily cost more than $50,000 for equipment and cabling. However, offering a pervasive and robust wireless network is now a given, so streamlining our infrastructure in this way saves thousands of dollars compared with a wired Ethernet setup.

Enhanced Education

Students come to campus today with multiple devices. Many come to school with a wireless notebook, smartphone, tablet and possibly even a wireless game system. In fact, 40 percent of the wireless devices on our campus are not notebooks.

The influx of these devices offers enormous educational opportunities. For starters, pervasive wireless allows professors to form small student workgroups in class, or simply lets students work wherever they are because they are no longer tied to a location. Wireless also adds flexibility. Because they are always moving from class to class, it's easier for professors to take their own notebook, smartphone or tablet to class rather than being tied to a desktop.

Our college offers more than 80 specialized degree programs to nearly 3,400 students, with our automotive and equine programs being among the largest. With wireless access, our automotive management and technology students can use their mobile devices while working on cars in the lab; and our equine students can take photos or videos in the field with their smartphones and then easily manipulate the images or video footage at home or in class on their notebooks.

1.5 The average number of mobile devices students bring to campus

SOURCE:Morrisville State College

Wireless access also extends to our administrative staff, roughly 80 percent of whom work on notebooks. We find that supplying them with wireless devices creates opportunities that didn't exist in the past. For example, when incoming students arrive on campus, our staff sets up in a large room with their notebooks and provides access to all of the administrative offices in a convenient spot for students. This helps make our entrance process easier for students and parents as they arrive.

Moving in this direction takes leadership, and I give a lot of credit to our CIO, Jean Boland, who had the vision to deploy wireless in the late 1990s. Our administration has been very supportive of our technology strategy, which has helped us stay closely aligned with the college's mission.

In this era of tight budgets, with the need to recruit, retain and graduate students with relevant skills, running as much of the campus as possible on wireless simply makes sense.