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Benedict College Goes Fully Wireless with 802.11n

Dynamic Wi-Fi Beamforming Essential to Supporting Internet TV and Radio, IP Video Surveillance and other Multimedia Applications

Benedict College in Columbia, SC is deploying a campus-wide, indoor/outdoor 802.11n network. Currently being rolled out across the entire 100-acre campus, the network will blanket the school to support voice, video, and data applications, according to college representatives. Thirty buildings are being outfitted with the Smart wi-fi gear, including a 10,000-seat stadium, on- and off-campus student housing, libraries, administrative buildings, and classrooms. Benedict is replacing legacy Cisco 802.11g access points.

The college has selected Ruckus Wireless gear for the move, including 168 dual-band 802.11n ZoneFlex 7962 Smart Wi-Fi access points along with the ZoneDirector 3250 WLAN controller. According Ruckus, the ZoneFlex 7962 supports new "dynamic beamforming" technology to extend the range and improve the reliability of wi-fi transmissions.

Dynamic beamforming uses constant feedback from the client to ensure that the path selected is performing properly using standard acknowledgements built into the standard 802.11 protocol. The idea is to construct an adaptive system that provides better performance and longer range and that automatically adapts to environmental changes without IT staff having to perform manual tuning.

"We were impressed with the advances that Ruckus has made in the area of beamforming and simply found the benefits overwhelming," said Darrell Black, Benedict CIO. "With the technology we are able to implement a campus-wide 802.11n network with fewer APs, better reliability, and inherent multimedia support at one-third the cost of conventional wireless LAN systems. It is that compelling."

Previously Benedict had deployed Cisco wi-fi access points on a limited basis throughout some administrative buildings, but had not made a strategic commitment to the technology. "Things have changed dramatically," said Black. "There's a tidal wave of new wi-fi-enabled devices being brought onto campus. And students, guests, faculty, and staff have all come to expect wireless connectivity wherever they are. Providing wireless connectivity isn't the problem--providing reliable wi-fi connectivity is."

Black noted that due to the scope and breadth of the project, Benedict spent significant time researching the best wi-fi practices of 22 universities. This research revealed four major problems with the deployment of wi-fi within the higher education market: poor signal coverage; dropped connections; inconsistent, erratic performance; and complex configuration and management.

Benedict is deploying dual-band 802.11n APs using standard 802.3af power over Ethernet (PoE) connections. "When you're talking about hundreds of APs across a campus, every issue is magnified," said Black. "With the Ruckus system, not only did we mitigate having to upgrade our PoE switches but we have also reduced the amount of cabling required by deploying the APs in mesh mode without compromising reliability."

The Ruckus ZoneFlex system supports "smart mesh networking," a proprietary approach that allows the administrator to manage the network through the ZoneDirector management system. With Smart Mesh Networking enabled, new access points can be plugged into a power source and then will automatically create a wireless connection to the best adjacent AP.

Other recent installations of Ruckus hardware include Philadelphia schools Temple University and the University of Pennsylvania, as well as the University of Virginia at Wise, among others.

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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