American University in Washington, DC is installing a wireless system to handle voice, data and messaging, starting this fall, making the 10,000-student institution the first fully integrated wireless university.
The project, which will rid the university of telephone lines, will feature a network that will integrate a wireless local area network (WLAN) with cellular voice and data. When the project is complete, antennas distributed across the university's 84-acre campus will let students pick up both a cellular voice signal and a WLAN signal even inside thick buildings where signals typically encounter obstacles.
The system will let students use cell phones for their primary voice communications and surf the Web from personal digital assistants and laptops throughout the campus, both indoors and outdoors. Students will be able to get messages about university events and schedule changes on their laptops or PDAs or phone. They can use the system to access a university portal to check their grades or find out financial information.
Other universities in the United States offer either a WLAN or wireless phone service in partnership with an operator. But American University may be the first to take advantage of both technologies. University representatives believe that as time goes by, the system will drastically reduce the amount of money spent maintaining its wireline phones.
The university is using previously installed dark fiber for part of the project. The campus is wired with a Gigabit Ethernet optical-fiber backbone, with wired connections installed in all of its resident halls. The WLAN will take advantage of this high-speed wireline network.
Carl Whitman, executive director of e-operations at the university, describes the move to wireless as the "logical next step" to expand on that backbone. "We have the basics in place," he says. "This will make connectivity available everywhere on campus."
Whitman says some of the installation's challenges involve wiring each antenna with coaxial cable. The antenna must be wired to and terminated to the TR on each floor of the campus' 40 buildings.
"Simply put, it takes an awful lot of wire to go wireless," says Whitman. "It's a pain to install a heavy gauge coaxial cable that is not friendly to work with."
The system will allow the university to have multiple carriers on the same infrastructure.