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Wireless Spreads Out

IHEs find new ways to tie mobile technology to teaching and administrative services.
University Business, Jun 2005

Isla Vista, a college community for the University of California, Santa Barbara now has free Wi-Fi access in the downtown area. Like many college towns, its residents have come to expect ubiquitous internet access. The new network is Firetide's Instant Mesh Network. A mesh network topology connects all nodes without requiring communication to pass through a central concentrator. A wireless mesh uses multiple network gateways, essentially radio-frequency access points, that create multiple, concurrent traffic flows among themselves. The aggregated capacity of these gateways provides seamless Wi-Fi coverage and high throughput, which holds promise for a growing number of digital communication modes on campus, including video and voice over IP (VoIP).

BelAir Networks is participating in the University of Georgia's Mobile Media Consortium, a project to test wireless infrastructures in an urban environment. The wireless mesh replaced a wireless network that had been in use for three years. Last fall, UGA's mobile media design students experimented with services such as a restaurant guide and a wireless walking tour.

Since 2003, Drexel University (Pa.) has used a wireless network known as DrexelOneMobile and built on Microsoft's .NET Framework, Mobile Internet Toolkit, and Visual Studio.NET. The network uses the university's LDAP directory to authenticate mobile users. Because .NET technology accommodates any software that conforms to the Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP), an XML-based method for encoding web service requests and responses, Drexel's administrative applications and portal are reachable through DrexelOneMobile. The campus community can use a variety of mobile devices--wireless laptops, Blackberries, web phones, and PDAs--to access the network. Featured services include news, campus announcements, and an online phone directory.

A wireless infrastructure may
save Dartmouth as much as
$1 million in annual costs.

Dartmouth College (N.H.) has consolidated phone, cable, and data services in one wireless system. The project, which began in 2001, has added 1,400 wireless access points to the 24,000 wired ports on campus. The college will expand its cable TV system to provide faculty and students individual "channels" for showing movie clips, video projects, or presentations. Dartmouth estimates that a wireless infrastructure will save as much as $1 million in annual maintenance, cabling, and salary costs. How the change in technologies will affect teaching and learning is not yet clear, but Dartmouth is again making all of higher education take notice of its innovations in campus technology.

IHEs are pondering the impact of the ever-growing variety of hand-held devices. IP multimedia subsystems (IMS) are the basis for expected break-throughs in "combinatorial" or "rich call" services--adding to circuit-switched voice calls new video features such as push-to-view, see-what-I-see, and push-to-share. Handset makers like Nokia, Samsung, and Motorola can already be called multimedia phones. Nokia has announced a model capable of storing as many as 3,000 sounds. Motorola and Apple Computers plan to test-market a music cell phone, hoping to build on the runaway success of the iPod. These third-generation (3G) devices, with features like improved internet browsing and messaging and voice-video integration are just now coming to market. Their impact on campus will be interesting to watch.

Duke University (N.C.) has experimented with the iPod as a potential aid to instruction, although the initiative met with mixed reactions, perhaps because not a lot of thought appears to have gone into how the devices would be used. But during the past academic year "podcasting"--the dissemination of digital recordings of all kinds in MP3 and other audio formats--has sparked new interest in these music players. Duke and others are intrigued by the possibilities of listening to lectures and language lessons distributed via wired and wireless networks.

Fixed and mobile networks are rapidly maturing to form an extended communications fabric. Multimedia services carried via easy-to-use handsets are sweeping through the consumer marketplace, perhaps heralding another revolution in communications and a scramble to adapt campus infrastructures.

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