New equipment boosts wireless access on campus

The addition of more access points in Shields Library, software with "self-healing logic," and a tryout of new outdoor networking equipment should improve wireless access to the Internet in several areas of campus during the first part of 2008.

"It's all designed to improve wireless network services for the campus community," says Mark Redican, NOC manager for Communications Resources, "and make our wireless network more robust for current and future applications."

By February, the Communications Resources unit of Information and Educational Technology plans to finish replacing the 270 Cisco wireless access points it now manages with equipment made by Aruba Networks Inc. That's the first part of the change, and it will standardize existing MoobileNet services, bringing improved security, coverage and reliability.

The new equipment includes a nice step up from the old: It is centrally controlled from IET's Network Operations Center by software that automatically adjusts the access points' radio channels and signal strength to create maximum wireless coverage.

Also, the system can sense when an access point has stopped working. When that happens, it boosts signals from nearby access points to close the gap. That's the "self-healing" part, and should minimize wireless disruptions caused when an access point temporarily stops working or gets blocked by another signal. (Some cordless desk phones, microwaves and other environmental factors can disrupt wireless access.)

Communications Resources has installed the new equipment in the common areas of Shields Library and Mrak Hall. Shields has also received 71 additional access points, boosting the library\031s total to 85. Additional wireless deployments are in progress or planned for Kemper Hall, the Genome and Biomedical Sciences Facility, and several buildings within the veterinary school. Various small-scale efforts are also under way to install additional access poi nts in common areas throughout the campus.

Those improvements will take place inside. Outside, the Network Operations Center will spend the next few months experimenting with "mesh" wireless networking equipment that should expand outdoors areas covered by Moobilenet and MoobilenetX, the campus wireless network. Mesh equipment is usually installed in places, such as the top of a light pole, which lack wired connections to the campus network infrastructure. It uses a wireless link to reach the infrastructure (the inside access points usually have a wired connection), and will broadcast Moobilenet and MoobilenetX the same way the inside access points do.

Service should improve starting with the finish of the initial Aruba deployment in February. Find more information about wireless in general here.

More information about the general expansion of wireless on campus, including a set of principles for setting priorities, is contained in a Campus Council for Information Technology subcommittee report.