Barnard To Deploy 802.11n for Student Residences

Barnard College has selected Meru Networks to provide student residence halls on its New York City campus with high-speed IEEE 802.11n wireless network coverage.

This summer Barnard will deploy about 150 Meru 802.11n-enabled wireless access points in five campus dormitories to provide students with high-performance wireless coverage when they return for the fall term. The deployment will continue in 2009 to additional dorms as well as in The Nexus, a 70,000-square-foot building under construction that will serve as the college's social center. With that second deployment, 2,000 of the nearly 2,400 students at the college will have access to wireless networking in their residences.

Barnard selected Meru as its wireless network provider based on the results of a 2006 product test in which the college deployed access points in two initial residences. One dorm had Meru products and the other had products from Cisco Systems.

"Our wired infrastructure was old and prohibitively expensive to replace, and wireless had evolved to the point where it was a valid option for primary student networking," said Thom Sobczak, Barnard's director of management information and network services. "In our 'bake-off,' the Meru technology blew us away. There were no issues with coverage or capacity, no complaints from users."

According to the school, a major factor in the selection of Meru was the company's virtual-cell wireless LAN (WLAN) technology, which automatically selects one channel span for enterprise- or campus-wide coverage, layering additional spans only when more capacity is required. This contrasts with the micro-cell approach used by many legacy WLANs, which assigns different channels to adjacent network cells, raising the potential for co-channel interference.

"With Meru's single-channel approach, the client never needs to know or care which access point it's associated with, and the IT staff doesn't have to do any of the time-consuming channel planning that every other wireless LAN vendor requires," said Emily Harris, Barnard's associate director of networks and systems. "As a small college that has to budget carefully, we appreciated the fact that, with Meru, less hardware would support the same number of users and take less manpower to maintain."

The move to 802.11n, Harris added, in part reflects the increase in students bringing in more 11n-equipped laptop computers--notably Apple systems, which have supported 11n for the some time. "The majority of first-year students are coming in with the newest Mac laptops, wanting the fastest possible access," she said.

The new portions of the Barnard network will use Meru's AP311 dual-radio access point, which has one 802.11n radio and one 802.11a/b/g radio (software-upgradable to 11n). Existing wireless sites on campus use the AP208 access point, which has two radios that can operate in either 802.11a or 802.11b/g mode. The expanded network will deploy four Meru MC3000 series controllers, each capable of supporting 150 access points.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal and Campus Technology. She can be reached at dian@dischaffhauser.com or on Twitter @schaffhauser.

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