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Saint Joseph Builds Out Wireless Network in Multi-year Upgrade

Saint Joseph's University has begun deploying a Meru Networks wireless local area network across its Philadelphia campus as part of a multi-year effort to bring wireless coverage to every building on campus. The wireless project began with the installation of Meru access points (APs) in the university's freshman residence halls and the Campion Student Center, and continued with upper-class dormitories. When students return to school this fall, 380 Meru APs will be providing wireless coverage to 25 buildings, encompassing all residences plus two dining halls, a student commons, an administrative facility, and an academic building.

By the time the 6,850-student university replaces a legacy wireless network in its academic buildings and renovates its James J. Maguire '58 campus, located on a newly acquired adjacent property, up to 800 Meru APs will be installed.

According to Joseph F. Petragnani, assistant VP for IT, the university had installed a wireless LAN from Airespace (now part of Cisco) in selected academic buildings in 2004 and expanded it over the next several years. By early 2007, when the university embarked on a project to extend wireless coverage to its residence halls, the IT team began researching fourth-generation WLAN technologies, selecting Meru after an extensive vendor evaluation.

"The competition for funding dollars is always intense, so it's critical to make the best possible use of those dollars," Petragnani said. "We found Meru's Air Traffic Control technology to provide the most cost-effective, efficient wireless solution--and the easiest to manage."

In some locations wireless will serve as more than just a convenient alternative to wired access, he said. "One of the buildings on the new Maguire campus has more than 30 classrooms. In the past it would have been typical to put large numbers of expensive wired connections in all those classrooms. Instead, we'll be relying on wireless as the primary means of network access there."

Caroline Owens, a senior network analyst at Saint Joseph's, said Meru technology provides the "airtime fairness" needed in an environment characterized by the mix of client access speeds--including slower IEEE 802.11b traffic and faster 802.11g traffic--on the school's WLAN.

"As a network troubleshooting person, I was always hearing people complain the network was too slow," she said. "With our old network there wasn't a lot I could do about it--in a mixed b/g environment, the network would default to the lowest common denominator, and everyone would end up getting access at 11b speed. Meru ensures that the 11g clients aren't pulled down by 11b traffic. At the same time Meru doesn't let a few users who are sending a lot of traffic hog all the bandwidth so others can't get on."

"In the past we had to be careful about the number and placement of access points in a given area because of interference issues," Owens said. "Meru's single-channel architecture means co-channel interference isn't a problem. If you find a coverage hole, you just drop in another access point wherever you need it. And for a particularly dense environment like a lecture hall, you can layer an extra channel with additional APs."

Meru products currently being used at Saint Joseph's University include the AP208 access point, which has two radios both capable of operating at IEEE 802.11b/g and 802.11a modes; and the MC3000 series controller, which provides centralized radio frequency management, quality of service, and security for the wireless LAN.

The university is considering a new generation of Meru 802.11n products, which are backward-compatible with existing 802.11a/b/g gear, for use on the Maguire campus when it opens in the fall of 2009.

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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