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U Mass Amherst Completes Shift to Wireless in Residence Halls

Following two years of effort, the University of Massachusetts Amherst has fully replaced its Ethernet network in residence halls with an 802.11n wireless network built on Aruba Networks gear. The university no longer makes wired Ethernet available in most of those buildings.

"Our students no longer want to be tethered to a desktop but rather expect us to provide a high-performance network that will support mobile devices that make increasing use of video and audio enhanced applications," said CIO John Dubach.

The university's wireless instructions now include the steps not only for connecting both Windows and Mac computers to the wireless network, but also Apple and Google Android devices.

The network serves about 12,000 resident students. Its entire student body has about 27,000 people. UMass Amherst began by setting up wireless hotspots in common areas where students congregate for study and leisure. IT extended the wireless access to classrooms, libraries, and administrative buildings. Now the wireless network covers all registrar-scheduled classrooms on the 1,450-acre campus.

The residence hall project began with a pilot in a single building that served about 139 students. When the broader implementation began, the IT organization identified "rogue" access points and developed an "air space" policy for the residence halls, asking students not to deploy their own access points and to unplug other devices known to slow down wireless connections, including cordless phones, wireless speakers, microwaves, Bluetooth keyboards, and some gaming devices. Students were also asked to disable wireless features on printers. IT staff physically unplugged the existing Ethernet ports and deployed about 2,000 Aruba 802.11n AP-125 access points to provide students with network access. The deployment was completed over two summer phases.

As a result of the project, the number of registered network devices has increased and trouble tickets related to residence hall networking have been reduced.

The university reported it intends to continue providing wired access to researchers, labs, high-performance computing environments, and other areas delivering that require sustained multi-gigabit connections.

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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