Wireless LANs reach next round

Wireless expansion plans in universities and workplaces

Intel is working with Cisco Systems to promote next-generation uses for WLANs, and the chip maker has announced plans to release a Centrino mobile chip with 802.11n support in the first half of 2007, without waiting for the IEEE to approve the standard. But Tucker acknowledged that WLANs are "not a replacement for Ethernet across all users." He cited large number-crunching applications as one area where wireless networks fall short.

Roger Daniel, director of network infrastructure at North Carolina Central University, said the school uses a large wireless mesh network for applications such as transmitting video feeds to end users. It also is starting to test voice over Wi-Fi.

But, Daniel said, "Wi-Fi will never replace our wired LAN, and we're taking Gigabit Ethernet to each desktop, so 100 or more megabits over wireless doesn't mean that much by comparison." Wi-Fi's primary value, he added, is that it provides "anytime access" to data and serves as "a cost- effective way of extending the LAN to the users."

Nurses at WakeMed Health & Hospitals in North Carolina, could benefit from having dual-mode phones, which would be easier to carry than the separate voice-over-Wi-Fi handsets and cellular phones now used by about 500 medical workers, said John Tuman, director of network services at WakeMed.

Tuman also wants to use RFID tags to keep track of medical equipment and transmit the data generated by the tags via his Wi-Fi network. But the dual-mode and RFID technologies are just wish-list items for now, he said.

Wireless becomes big LAN on campus

Much of the pressure to expand the uses of wireless LANs is coming from consumers who have grown accustomed to using free Wi-Fi hot spots, especially college students who want access to technology as they move from their dormitories to classrooms and nearby coffee shops.

"We have to have Wi-Fi as a university, or the students complain," said Roger Daniel, director of network infrastructure at North Carolina Central University. To support its 8,000 students, the school has installed about 300 wireless access points indoors and another 20 outdoors in a ruggedized 802.11 mesh network.

"There's big demand for Wi-Fi, partly from [users of] the new gadgets -- the Palms and Pocket PCs and more," Daniel said. In addition, the university is using its Wi-Fi network to pump video feeds to end users and to receive images from security cameras that are located in remote areas where it would be arduous to run wired connections.

Daniel said that the university is testing voice over Wi-Fi and that dual-mode handsets likely will become a technology that warrants investigation within the next two years. "We sit in Research Triangle Park, with Duke, Chapel Hill and other universities nearby, so pretty much we have to keep up with the Joneses," he noted.

The Alamo Community College District (ACCD), a group of five colleges in San Antonio, has deployed 477 access points to serve about 50,000 students and 6,000 staff members, said Arne Saustrup, the district's IT operations manager.

Going forward, "the WLAN will be standard infrastructure in all ACCD buildings," Saustrup said. He added that he expects "rapid growth" in the number of wireless users over the next two years and that the district eventually will support dual-mode phones. "We see Wi-Fi voice as a collateral benefit [for users]," Saustrup said.

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