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Utah State University Blankets Campus with Wireless Coverage

Utah State University has blanketed its 400-acre campus with wireless coverage for 25,000 students, faculty and staff using wireless LAN equipment from Meru Networks.

The Logan, UT school has installed 700 Meru wireless access points in 150 of 200 buildings on campus, including all academic facilities and residences. It has also installed the access points at a number of remote sites across the state. Future plans call for coverage to be added in widely-used outdoor venues and inter-building corridors, providing a foundation for campus-wide Internet telephony (VoIP) usage.

Utah State decided in early 2007 to replace its existing wireless system of about 50 access points in a few buildings with a campus-wide deployment, according to network team coordinator Kevin Grover. The goal was "100 percent coverage on campus."

After evaluating six wireless LAN vendors, the university selected Meru. Key to the decision, Grover said, was Meru's single-channel technology, which made the WLAN easy to deploy and maintain without a large staff.

"All the other systems we looked at were just extensions of old access-point technology, requiring extensive engineering and planning up front to make the three-channel deployment cover all the areas without interference," he said. "If we found a dead spot in a building after deploying, we'd have to re-engineer the channel allocations to accommodate another access point. Meru takes a completely different approach, putting all the access points on one channel. Now if we find a dead spot we can just throw up another access point and not have to worry about channel interference. With this approach we can get by with one full-time employee monitoring and managing the entire wireless network."

With all access points operating on the same channel, Grover said, Meru technology is also well suited to handle VoIP, because no "handoffs" are required as users roam around buildings. The same advantages apply to streaming video applications, such as the "remote rolling classroom" the university created as a pilot research project in elementary education; a large-screen TV on a cart can be moved from place to place and wirelessly connect.

For indoor wireless coverage, Utah State uses Meru's AP201 single-radio IEEE 802.11a/b/g access point, which supports 2.4- and 5-GHz operation. For outdoor coverage, the university has tested Meru's OAP180 Rugged Access Point and plans to begin deployment this spring, providing network access in areas where students and faculty congregate and use their laptops and PDAs, as well as in corridors joining academic buildings. Nine Meru MC3000 series controllers are deployed, separated into two groups--academic and residential--each with an N+1 configuration for failover purposes.

Currently based on the IEEE 802.11b/g standard, the Utah State wireless network will begin to incorporate the newer high-performance 802.11n standard in the next major upgrade, Grover said.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.

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