WMU News

Wireless initiative will affect entire campus

May 3, 2001

KALAMAZOO -- WMU is going wireless. Since President Elson S. Floyd's recent State of the University commitment to take the campus "completely wireless" by February 2002, information technology professionals have been working to realize his vision. Along with the technological aspects of the initiative, they're also devoted to keeping faculty and staff members informed of how the project will affect them.

"We've had an opportunity to meet with our campus stakeholders to discuss the wireless initiative," says project manager George Kohrman, information technology. "We're launching a communications campaign to keep faculty, staff and students informed throughout the project."

"Completely wireless," Kohrman says, means that students, faculty and staff will eventually be able to connect to the University network and to the Internet from laptop computers at any point on campus. The wireless initiative will not replace existing wired connections, but rather will supplement them with indoor and outdoor wireless connections.

Office of Information Technology staffers report that WMU is on the leading edge of wireless implementation among major universities. While many smaller institutions have gone 100 percent wireless, WMU will be one of the first, if not the first, large public university to implement a campuswide wireless system.

A survey team recently began an eight-week analysis of the University's wireless needs. According to Kohrman, the team is working to identify locations for wireless hubs and create a priority list for implementation. The project's first wireless access points will be in place for the coming fall semester.

"We'll be looking first at the public areas where students congregate, such as the library, Bernhard Center and residence hall lounges," Kohrman reports. "Those places, along with classrooms, are our priority. Beyond that, we'll know more when the survey is complete. But our ultimate goal is to provide universal access on this campus, whether wired or wireless."

OIT is designing the system to support approximately 20 users at each access point. Kohrman and his colleagues will use the survey data, along with information collected in interviews with faculty and staff members, to determine access point locations.

A key goal of the project is to create wireless access in every classroom on campus. The plan calls for the immediate creation of several "laptop intensive" rooms where all students in the class will have wireless access, modeled after the pilot project implemented in the Haworth College of Business in the fall of 2000.

"There's been a real demand from faculty members to develop this kind of system," he says. "I know of at least four departments that are purchasing laptops to loan out for classroom use. We are empowering our professors to use technology in the classroom, and there are programs in place to help them explore new teaching techniques and best practices."

Access is one thing, but the truly tech-savvy want to know about speed, Kohrman says. Depending on the number of users at any one time, each of the University's wireless access points will support about 10 megabytes of data per second. Although that's slower than most of the current wired connections on campus, it's still about 200 times faster than a dial-up modem.

OIT faces a classic technological dilemma, Kohrman contends. When do you take the plunge and purchase your equipment? A faster, less expensive solution will always be just around the corner.
"The next generation of technology will bring a significant increase in the speed of wireless access points," he says. "But we expect it to be about three years until the technology is readily available and affordable. We just weren't willing to wait."

For more information on the wireless initiative, faculty and staff members are encouraged to visit the project Web site at <www.wmich.edu/oit/wireless> or send an e-mail message to <wireless@wmich.edu>.

Media contact: Jessica English, 616 387-8400, jessica.english@wmich.edu

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