Funding Your Next Wireless Project

Finding the Cash for Maintaining Wireless

Once a wireless network is established, ongoing costs are relatively small, Voss said. For example, he’s invested half a million dollars in the wireless infrastructure in IU, and estimates that he’ll be able to gradually upgrade the entire infrastructure over four years at a cost of less than $150,000 a year.

Nor d'es Voss find managing the wireless network overly expensive, although he emphasizes that he already has a large and well-established wired network in place, with thousands of routers, switches, and other hardware. With that, along with the staff to manage it, Voss finds that a wi-fi network "really d'esn’t present a huge management challenge. This stuff is really fairly easy."

At the University of Wyoming, Borthwick says, they spent about $700 per access point—a cost that includes a high-gain antennae for better coverage at some locations. The university, an all-Cisco shop, used a Cisco Aironet 350 or Cisco Aironet 1200 for each access point. That choice will pay off when the school upgrades to 802.11g, since Borthwick said Cisco offers a cost-effective upgrade plan of just $50 or so per access point to upgrade the devices by simply swapping a card. (The less-expensive Cisco Aironet 350 series have to be returned and replaced.)

“We’ve been very pleased with the overall cost of upgrading. Cisco came along with these very simple, very easy upgrades” -- Justin Borthwick

"We’ve been very pleased with the overall cost of upgrading. Cisco came along with these very simple, very easy upgrades," Borthwick said. Overall, he estimates that the UW network—including two VPN concentrators to enhance the signal, a wireless gateway, and all of the access points—cost under $100,000.

Get Creative to Extend Your Wireless Network

Finally, a creative and cost-effective way to extend your campus wi-fi network is through a partnership with a local provider. At Indiana University, the school is extending its wireless network off the campus and into the local surrounding area. To do so, Voss explained, the school is working with an Internet service provider in the area called Kiva that provides wireless "hot spots" locally. Through a partnership, the university allows Kiva members to access the university wireless network while on campus, with proper security. Similarly, students can use the Kiva hot spots off-campus to connect through to the campus network.

That means that students in a local coffee house with a Kiva wireless connection can authenticate through and access the university wi-fi network even though they’re off-campus. "As [Kiva] grows their network and makes it more robust," Voss says, "it will allow us to broaden the impact of our environment – and will allow them to get others interested in their services for other reasons."

Clearly, creativity can pay off in the struggle to find funds for expanding wireless networks on campus. Since industry research firm Gartner predicts that 99 million people will have wi-fi-capable computers by 2006, you can expect that a portion of those wireless users will be your students, faculty and staff—all hungry for more hot spots, faster connections, and the latest wireless technology.

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About the Author

Linda Briggs is a freelance writer based in San Diego, Calif. She can be reached at lbriggs@lindabriggs.com.

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