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Farmingdale State College Gets Wireless Boost with 802.11n Equipment

Students at New York's Farmingdale State College now have access to high-speed wireless Internet access in their dormitories, library, and classrooms using a campus-wide IEEE 802.11n draft 2.0 wireless LAN from Meru Networks.

During 2008 Farmingdale State College upgraded its existing Meru WLAN from the 802.11a/b/g standards to 802.11n. According to the company, this allows users to access the Internet and share files at speeds up to five times greater than those supported by the earlier standards. The WLAN's 200 access points are installed in approximately 20 buildings on the 380-acre Long Island campus.

"We're the largest college of technology in the SUNY system, and we wanted to give our students the latest technology," said Jeff Borah, the college's assistant systems manager. "We first installed a Meru 802.11a/b/g WLAN several years ago, and Meru's single-channel virtual-cell technology allowed students to move around campus as if they were on one big access point, without suffering disconnections.

"We upgraded to Meru's 11n technology for both broader coverage and higher throughput. For several years, about half of our 6,500 students have been bringing a laptop computer or some other mobile device to campus. Not only are they doing more rich Web browsing and viewing streaming videos, they're also doing online research and coursework--in fact, every course now has at least an online presence, and some are conducted completely online. And with the frequent high-density use of laptops in classrooms, it would be impractical and costly to wire every desktop on campus."

Though largely a commuter school, Farmingdale State College has several on-campus residence halls. The largest, Orchard Hall, houses 450 students and had presented a major challenge for wireless networks.

"Orchard Hall's construction materials--cinderblock with aluminum--don't lend themselves to propagating wireless signals," said Brett Southard, network associate. "Students were finding it difficult to get a signal, and bouncing in and out of coverage. Meru's 11n [multiple input-multiple output] antenna technology allows the access point to have a larger 'footprint' and gives us increased coverage without dead spots. We can use fewer APs than with older technology, and they easily handle the high density of student wireless use in the building."

The new equipment integrates with Farmingdale's Bradford Networks Campus Manager network access control product, which enables the college to implement identical security policies across its wired and wireless networks. If a student brings a laptop on campus or a guest uses a mobile device at a conference or athletic event, he or she logs in through the Bradford NAC to be connected to the Meru WLAN.

The network uses Meru's AP320 dual-radio 802.11a/b/g/n access points and MC3000 series controllers. "With the dual-radio configuration we can use one radio at 2.4 GHz to give us more coverage distance, and the other at 5.0 GHz for better speeds. Blending them, we were able to get better signal strength and speed over longer distances," Southard said. Plans call for Farmingdale to extend the Meru 802.11n WLAN to outdoor campus spaces, enabling students to maintain their high-speed wireless connections while walking between buildings, in plazas where they congregate, and at sporting events.

Farmingdale has 6,800 undergraduate students.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a writer who covers technology and business for a number of publications. Contact her at dian@dischaffhauser.com.

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