The golden age of wireless

September 15, 2000

Mark Miester

As the sun finally sets on a sultry summer day, a student appears on the veranda of Goldring/ Woldenberg Hall. Removing a notebook computer from his backpack, he takes a seat and begins to surf the Net, with nary a cable or Internet connection in sight.

"I've always dreamed of looking out my window and seeing a student sitting at one of those tables down there surfing the Net," says Freeman School director of information technology Tom Gerace. "I've finally seen that, so I'm happy now."

This fall, the A. B. Freeman School of Business welcomed students back with a technological innovation: wireless network access. Students can now access the Freeman School network and surf the Net without Ethernet cables from anywhere in Goldring/Woldenberg Hall.

Students are free to move around the building, sit on the veranda and even wander as far as the benches in Keller Plaza without losing their connection. The Freeman School first considered wireless access three years ago, but at the time, a lack of technical standards and cost made undertaking it infeasible.

"The technology was available, but it was very costly-$6,000 for an access point and the cards that went into the machines were about $500," Gerace explains. "It was prohibitively expensive."

In the last two years, however, the 802.11B standard for wireless Internet access was established and the cost of access point hardware dropped to $750. Those factors made installing the "access points"-the radio receivers and transmitters that make wireless access possible-much more desirable.

In order to take advantage of wireless Web access, students must purchase a $157 card to install in their computers. By comparison, the cost of an adapter to access the school's connection via Ethernet cable is $148.

"When the [wireless] device was $385, you couldn't afford to do it," Gerace says. "Now that there's just a $9 difference, a lot of our students are saying, 'Heck, I'm going to go with the most up-to-date technology.'"

The Freeman School installed more than 20 Lucent Technology access points in student areas of the building-more than the number necessary to cover the building but, Gerace says, just enough to comfortably accommodate all students.

"We planned for capacity, spreading users out over a number of access points so that they would get higher speeds and throughput rather than just simply coverage," Gerace says. Students using wireless access can expect speeds of approximately 11.4 megabits per second, Gerace says.

Standard wired Ethernet connections achieve speeds of about 10 megabits per second, he notes. Gerace hastens to add that Goldring/ Woldenberg Hall already boasted extensive network and Internet access before it embarked on its wireless initiative.

Last year, the school introduced a notebook computer requirement for all full-time MBAs and executive MBAs. In preparation for that, Gerace's staff wired virtually every room in the school and installed 76 connections throughout the building's atrium to make it convenient for students to access the network and the Internet from their laptops.

Students have the option of either purchasing wireless cards or keeping their current Ethernet cable connection cards. To date, Gerace estimates that 10 percent of Freeman students have opted to purchase the wireless card, a figure he expects to rise as students learn more about the technology.

"The students have been really excited about this, especially our MBA students," Gerace says. "Some of them have seen wireless technology in the corporate world, and a lot of them have been reading about this."

Goldring/Woldenberg Hall is not the first building to install wireless access. Newcomb 115 was the first classroom on campus to feature wireless Net access, but Goldring/Woldenberg Hall is the only building on campus to be completely wireless.

Gerace says he knows of only two universities in the country that are experimenting with wireless access-Drexel and Wake Forest-and says he knows of no other business schools that have instituted such initiatives.

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