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Wireless Technologies: Expanding the Range of Options

A campus will move from a wired network to wireless technology for a variety of reasons. Perhaps the wired network d'esn’t reach every location in a distance learning program, or the campus decides to go wireless to allow students complete mobility. Sometimes geographic barriers necessitate a technology that can literally leap tall buildings in a single bound. Whatever the reason, deciding to go wireless is only the first step. After that, an institution has to research and choose the best wireless solution for a particular campus or system. As with wired networking, the number of variations available in wireless technology is staggering. Here we've surveyed some options that address campus-specific needs, from handheld devices that replace PCs, to single-office Internet connections, to laser transmission that beams data from point to point.

The Blue Wolf Wireless Campus relies on personal digital assistants (PDAs), cell phones, handheld computers, and two-way pagers to connect students and faculty to campus services. The Blue Wolf solution, relying on completely portable and relatively inexpensive hand-held devices rather than laptop computers, leverages a campus’s existing data from its back-end, course management, and portal systems. Customers using these miniature communication devices can customize the look and feel of the wireless channel as well as its content.

Colubris CN 1050 technology is appropriate for distance learning situations, in which satellite offices share a single Internet connection via cable, DSL, or broadband wireless modem. Colubris uses VPN technology to create a secure “tunnel” to a remote server. The built-in VPN server creates a secure wireless connection for each wireless station, and the onboard Hifn chipset maximizes throughput by handling all encryption tasks. For added flexibility, the CN1050 also includes support for 40/128-bit WEP encryption. CN 1050 includes a firewall customizable for appropriate rules. In addition, Colubris provides integration with legacy Ethernet LANs.

The SONAbeam product line from fSONA is designed primarily to solve geographic problems for short-distance data transmissions. fSONA offers point-to-point, line-of-sight, full duplex synchronous transmission at fast speeds using eye-safe lasers. The beams can carry information at data rates up to 1.25 Gbps over a propagation distance of 2.5 miles. Significantly less expensive than laying optical fiber, this system, consisting of two transceivers and a backup microwave link, is deployable within 24 hours once line-of-sight access is available. For links across a mile or more or in areas where buildings may sway, the fSONA dynamic beam tracking system relies on a custom-designed frictionless gimbal that takes into account building movement and inclement weather.

NextNet Expedience is a non-line-of-sight broadband wireless access system designed for rapid deployment of high-speed, two-way voice and data services over the “last mile” of the communications network. NextNet uses radio transmission, rather than lasers, and focuses on providing high speed, low-cost wireless Internet access for residential and small office or home office users. Their CPE (customer premise equipment) integrates the modem, transceiver, and antenna into a single compact indoor unit completely installable by the customer. The integrated CPE combines plug-and-play functionality with OFDM radio transmission reliability. The CPE unit connects to any IP-based device via a standard Ethernet connection, and supports single or multiple users on one subscriber connection.

RoamAbout R2, from Enterasys Networks, is a customizable and expandable wireless platform that allows users to maintain connection to the network from any location on campus. The RoamAbout PC card uses radio frequencies instead of a LAN connection, switching access points as the user moves about the network. The Enterasys outdoor RoamAbout allows customers to quickly establish high-speed connectivity between buildings without the inconvenience of installing cable or the recurring expense of leased T1 lines, providing a solution for extending wired LANs or building wireless LANs. Wireless users can run high-bandwidth applications previously available only from traditional wired networks. These features create a smooth technology migration, eliminating the need to upgrade an entire infrastructure or discard previously purchased PC radio cards.

Symbol wireless local area networking 24 is a technology solution that relies on handheld devices. The goal is to overcome insufficient or inconvenient data drops, provide students with ready access to technology tools, and simplify technology use for teachers. The handheld devices free teachers and students from the wired classroom, allowing learning to take place anywhere—in the gym, on the quad, or in the dorm. Administrators, teachers, and security personnel have instant access to student records. Bar code laser scanning facilitates the creation of a mobile, interactive classroom.

ZoomAir wireless networking products extend networks for short distances and are especially suitable for short-term solutions such as campus festivals, fairs, or other off-the-wired-network events. The products provide a range of up to 300 feet indoors and 1,000 feet outdoors, an 11 Mbps data rate, and Windows 95/98/NT/2000 drivers. AP11 Access Point Hardware connects a ZoomAir or other similarly compliant wireless network to an existing wired Ethernet LAN, extending the range of the wireless network. This solution utilizes existing PCs and extends the range of ad-hoc set-ups (using the full radius around a centered access point). The LAN to LAN Bridging Kit solution establishes a permanent wireless link between LANs in separate buildings or facilities within line of sight of each other.

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