UBC wireless LAN to span one million square metres

Students at the University of British Columbia have probably come to expect the long lineups at the Student Services department, where they are often sent back home for more information before they can settle their accounts.

This

fall, they saw something they might not have expected — administrative staff walking around with laptops, going over details with people still in line.

It was one of the first fruits of a project under way at the school to create a massive wireless local area network. Based on 802.11 or “”WiFi”” technology and running at data rates of 54 Mbps, the UBC wireless LAN may eventually include between 1,200 and 1,500 access points, serving 300 buildings and covering more than one million square metres.

“”It’s definitely one of the biggest in the country, especially when you consider it’s serving 44,000 students,”” said Andrew Sage, director of marketing at Cisco Systems of Canada. UBC is using Cisco’s Aironet 1200 Series as the basis for its network.

Jonn Martell, UBC’s wireless project manager, said the wireless LAN is a sub-project of the University Networking Program, a $30 million undertaking to upgrade all the buildings on campus with high-speed connectivity. Some departments, like chemical engineering, were still using modems to access online resources and the school wants to bring them up to date, Martell said. The school began mass deployment last summer and expects to be finished before September.

Martell said teams were already installing new wires and cabling as part of the University Networking Program.

“”We’re piggybacking on top of that because they’re doing a lot of hard work in terms of making sure the wires are installed, the conduits and all that fun stuff,”” he said. “”Even though it’s wireless, you still need wiring to get to the access points.””

Before work began, UBC monitored the use of wireless on campus and noticed that professors were installing wireless access points without any regard to security. This could have created a huge mess for the organization, Martell said, which helped fast-track the project. Security, liability and denial-of-service attacks remain a concern, he added, but the school feels the industry is taking adequate measures to improve the technology.

“”We’re not the only ones suffering, or that’s going to be suffering with a large-scale deployment,”” he said. “”We’ll be early adopters and we’ll make sure we stay on top of the current developments.””

Sage said many other Cisco customers share UBC’s concerns.

“”It’s a huge focus of investment, especially in the enterprise,”” he said. “”It’s the segment of the access point market where the features are very important to the usability of the network.””

The wireless LAN falls under what’s called the e-strategy at the university, which is to automate and use IT to streamline processes on campus. Martell calls the WLAN a “”zero-cost network,”” because users won’t have to purchase accounts. Every faculty and student will have a certain amount of connectivity, regardless of whether they’re on the wired network, on a public Internet port or wireless.

“”The nice thing about WiFi is that the equipment is relatively cheap,”” he said. “”It’s not like traditional wireless that telephone companies have to deal with.””

Though much of the wireless LAN will be based on 802.11b, Martell said UBC will also take advantage of the higher speed connectivity that the IEEE 802.11a radio module and 5 GHz client adapter cards provide to power high-bandwidth educational and research applications.

Comment: info@itbusiness.ca

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