Students, faculty and staff at The University of Texas-Pan American became part of one of the most connected campuses in South Texas Friday, Oct. 14 with the official completion of Phase One of the University's campus wide wireless network service.
An ongoing project for the past two years under the Telecommunication Services Department, the wireless service covers 35 buildings, including the UTPA Annex as well as several other outside areas of campus. It employs 225 access points, acting as little radio towers, within campus buildings and five to six external ones. A map of service coverage areas is available at http://www.utpa.edu/wwwgraphics/wlancoveragemaphr
"The completion of phase one of wireless services represents a significant step toward the goals of improving the campus infrastructure and providing our students an appropriate and contemporary technology environment," said Steven Copold, director of Telecommunication Services, who acknowledged the assistance of the vendor, Trillion and Cisco Systems, as well as 1,000 members of the University Community who served as early "adopters" or users of service prior to its official kickoff.
According to Kelly Smith, assistant director of network operations in the Telecommunications Services Department, who served as the project's manager, wireless is quite literally that - an absence of physical cords such as one from your computer to a wall outlet or from your home phone to a wall telephone plug-in - but still providing a live connection to a remote location.
"This service allows students, faculty and staff to move around unrestricted to a physical location and exposes them to a much wider range of possibilities. Teachers can now take their classes outside the typical classroom environment to anywhere within the wireless coverage area (where the wireless signal reaches) and students will be able to use their personal laptops and personal digital assistants (PDAs) to communicate with teachers, family, or friends more freely without having to be in a computer lab or classroom," he said.
The WLAN (wireless local area network), uses high-frequency waves, at a different frequency than those used for cell phones, rather than wires to communicate. It employs a single logon system for user authentication making it easy for wireless clients to access the network from any point on campus where coverage is available, eliminating the need for users to register their network interface card identification numbers with network administrators in multiple buildings. The new system also uses robust encryption to provide topnotch security necessary when sending data over a wireless network.
Smith said a project of this scale required significant self education on the department's part as well as meeting the challenge to make the system as simple and functional as possible for users.
"If it was too complicated it would not be used," he said.
Unofficially deployed Sept. 1, the system has seen a significant increase in use as users learned of its availability. The highest usage area seen so far is in the Student Union.
Describing the system as state-of-the-art, Smith believes it is at the top of any wireless service implemented to date in The University of Texas System.
Connection can be made from any laptop computer or PDA with wireless capabilities and the logon and password are the same used to access e-mail or to use the Academic Computing Lab equipment. For those needing assistance in setting up the wireless system, a site has been set up to provide information - http://emailsupport.panam.edu/ Assistance is also available by bringing your laptop or PDA to the E-mail Support Window in the Academic Services Building, or by calling 381-2020. Additionally, computer lab employees can also offer assistance.
"To ensure that all clients continue to receive excellent service, the Telecommunication Services unit will provide ongoing monitoring of the WLAN," Copold said but he requested that slow service times be reported by users to his department so additional access points can be provided as demand increases.
Future projects will include expansion of service to additional areas including the women's and men's dorms as well as continued assessment of the need to increase bandwidth capacity as usage increases in order to maintain an acceptable level of performance.
Smith said the future of wireless service will allow, for example, wireless phones unlike cell phones and wireless video transmission on those phones or other wireless compatible equipment. Smith said the wireless ready environment provides great advantages in expanding current methods of communicating information to one another.
"We can apply those advances to how we teach others, how others communicate on a personal level to one another and how we can enhance our own working environments," he said.