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Cedarville U Overhauls Campus-wide Wireless Network with 802.11n

Cedarville University in southwestern Ohio has selected Meru Networks' virtual cell wireless technology to upgrade its campus-wide wireless network to 802.11n. Approximately 90 of the university's 500 wireless access points have been upgraded to 802.11n so far in several buildings, including the newly built Center for Biblical and Theological Studies, which houses multimedia and computer labs, lecture halls, classrooms, and offices. The remaining 30 buildings on Cedarville's 400-acre campus will be upgraded over the next several years.

The Cedarville deployment has also upgraded to Meru's MC5000 controller, which supports up to 1,000 APs and delivers contention management for high-density wireless environments. The 3,000-student school originally deployed a Meru wireless network in 2006, first in academic buildings and later in student residences.

"With most of our students bringing their own laptops to campus nowadays, there's a built-in expectation that they'll have wireless everywhere--students hardly know anymore what it means to plug a laptop into a port in their rooms," said Nathan P. Hay, network engineer for Cedarville's computer services department. "In the academic buildings, wireless helps us in addressing the demand for temporary high-density setups. If a special event at the student center requires short-term use of 15 computers, it's a lot less work and time providing laptops connected to the wireless LAN than PCs on a traditional wired LAN."

Last year students began arriving on campus with new-generation laptops supporting 802.11n. Support for the 802.11n standard became a component of the university's long-term wireless plan. Before starting the WiFi upgrade, Hay decided to "recheck the wireless landscape" and evaluated 802.11n products from multiple vendors.

"The reasons we chose Meru two years ago were the reasons we still liked them in this year's review," Hay said. "Meru's virtual cell architecture lets you put all the access points on one channel and turn the power up without worrying about radio interference. That's a huge benefit, especially in older residential buildings where many of the walls are concrete block construction and we need full power to get in-room coverage from APs mounted in the hallways. The other vendors we tested all use a micro cell approach that forces you to constantly adjust power up and down to avoid interference. The Meru single-channel technology also eliminates channel planning--I looked at the blueprints and just eyeballed for AP placement to get full coverage. And once an AP is configured and mounted, there's not much to do except let it run. Since I'm a wireless department of one, that's a big help."

Hay said will Meru's cell technology will be a major advantage in the future when Cedarville deploys a voice-over-wi-fi system to replace the two-way radio system that computer technicians, campus safety, and custodial personnel currently use to communicate.

"Today, when someone talks on the radio, anyone else with a university radio--in fact, anyone with a radio anywhere in the region--can hear them," he said. "By virtue of its one-to-one nature, the wi-fi-based voice system will be inherently more secure."

For its 802.11n network the university uses Meru's AP320 access points, which provide backward compatibility with 802.11a/b/g networks. "About 30 percent of students' client devices now operate in the 5-GHz range," Hay said. "The rest are still in the 2.4-GHz range, and we didn't want to abandon them prematurely. With the AP320, we can serve everyone by dedicating one radio to 802.11a/n at 5 GHz, and the other to 802.11b/g/n at 2.4 GHz."

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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