Before the week is up the University of Toronto expects to have connected the John P. Robarts Research Library to its growing wireless network.

Four floors of the library are already complete, as are parts of U of T’s Scarborough campus and several buildings on the university’s main campus in downtown Toronto. These include the Joseph L. Rotman School of Management, the Sanford Fleming Building, and the Bora Laskin Law Library.

Norman Housley is quick to point out how students benefit from a wireless network around their university.

“It’s really making access to the Internet and to information content more flexible, available and easy to get to,” says the U of T’s network design manager.

U of T is one of four Canadian universities that have contracted Enterasys Networks Inc. to install wireless networks on their campuses. The ongoing installation at the U of T began with the School of Architecture and Landsape Architecture in August, shortly after the launch of a pilot project using an Enterasys network at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, B.C. Two other schools, the University of Waterloo and Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ont. are in the planning stages of their own wireless implementations.

Participating universities have found markedly different uses for the networks. The focus of Simon Fraser’s pilot was the university’s Faculty of Education building, where the wireless network was used to help education students learn how to integrate technology in the classroom.

U of T, in contrast, looks at its wireless network as way to simply offer students mobile connections in buildings across campus. “People can use it for whatever purposes they choose – consistent with the policies of the university,” Housely says.

“Schools are using the solution in different ways,” says Chrisann Merriman, senior solutions marketing manager for Enterasys, which is based in Rochester, N.H., but maintains offices in Ontario, Alberta, British Columbia and Quebec. She adds the company has set up wireless networks at universities worldwide, including Hofstra University in New York and Vienna Business School in Austria. “Some are implementing it for access purposes. Some are connecting it to empower students and teachers…Their ability to use technology is critical.”

Education is the largest of Enterasys’s three main vertical markets, which also include health care and financial services. The education solution is distinct from the other two, both in how it is designed – with post-secondary budgets in mind – and in how it is used.

“When you’re in the educational sector, nowadays, you ‘re learning how to learn,” and how to apply that information in the real world, Merriman said.

Merriman said implementation in a campus building can range in cost from US$5,000 to the multiple six figures, depending on the number of access points and the building environment.

“The main factor is space and building structure,” she said.

Housley says libraries and atria are prime areas for wireless connectivity as they are more difficult to wire than small rooms.

“Any area which is particularly open is difficult to wire,” he says.

He admitted wireless networks, which run at 11 mbps, are slower than wired networks which run at 100 mbps per second. But he said there are numerous factors that could hamper speed of a wireless network, including the server or the Internet itself.

“Wireless networks typically have a lower capacity than wired networks,” he said. “But the speed of the wireless is not the (only) factor in how things perform. It’s just one element in the chain.”

U of T would like to connect its Mississauga, Ont. campus once more funding becomes available, Housley says.

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