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Cost for Wireless Internet across campus being assessed

The exact cost of making campus completely wireless is still being assessed, but early estimates place costs at “hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

Student Senate voted in December to bring wireless Internet to residence halls and the St. James Apartment Complex. Student Senate Vice President Tricia Anklan said the resolution was recently presented to the Board of Trustees as an informational item. The board was “supportive,” but members were not aware the dorms and St. James were not wireless already, Anklan said.

“The administration says [wireless Internet] is a priority for them, but they aren’t willing to elaborate,” she said, adding that there is a “possibility” of completing wireless Internet installation in the dorms by move-in day 2010.

Students in dorms and St. James must use Ethernet cables to gain Internet access in non-wireless areas, limiting the locations they can use their laptops.

Ninety-one percent of incoming freshmen brought laptops, Associate Provost for Information Resources and Technology Chuck Ruch said.

“Students today expect to be able to use their computing devices wherever they may be,” Ruch said. “They want the mobility that ubiquitous wireless access provides.”

However, the wireless transition won’t be cheap.

Ruch said the university is researching the cost of wireless access points, the labor cost to install those access points, the price of the enclosures to hold the access points, engineering costs to identify appropriate access point location, and the cost of managing the access points once installed.

“These costs can be characterized as amounting to hundreds of thousands of dollars,” Ruch said.

And to ensure that additional wireless Internet use doesn’t overwhelm the wireless infrastructure already in place on campus, a change in the existing network’s basic infrastructure would be necessary.

The school plans to move from autonomous wireless access points, which are managed separately and can operate independently, to a controller-based architecture. Ruch said this transition will “scale well into the future, will improve the quality and reliability of the wireless network, and will simplify the management of the network.”

Mandy Bowman, a senior business management and marketing major who lives in St. James, said the lack of wireless Internet is a constant irritation.

“There are only two places to plug in Ethernet cables in our living room, but if all four of us want to do work in that room using the Internet, we can’t,” Bowman said.

She also said it can be inconvenient to set up furniture in apartment rooms, since the Ethernet cord must be taken into consideration. Bowman said she had to run a cord around the entire room to accommodate her Ethernet hook-up.

“Students, like all of us, don’t want to have to unplug one device to use a different one,” Ruch said. “In fact, they don’t want to have to plug in at all.”