UMass Rolls Out Wi-Fi to 12,000 Students

Wi-Fi on college campuses is nothing new, but the University of Massachusetts at Amherst recently completed one of the largest 802.11n deployments ever, providing wireless access to some 12,000 dormitory residents.

The project required physically unplugging 12,000 Ethernet ports that ran to students' rooms, and then installing 2,000 Aruba Networks access points (AP) in two phases over the past two summers.

The two-year rollout cost nearly $6 million, according to Dan Blanchard, senior adviser to the CIO at the university's Amherst branch, which has a 1,450-acre campus about 90 miles west of Boston.

Impetus for the project came from the students, some of whom were "plugging in their own APs," said Blanchard. That setup was insecure and led to "all the bad things you can imagine," he added. "We either had to stop them from having wireless or do it in a professional way."

The university chose APs running over the 5GHz channel rather than the 2.5GHz channel, and that decision involved some trade-offs. The 5GHz version has a shorter range, requiring more APs, but it provides greater data throughput.

Some wired connections remain, especially in labs and data centers, but wireless will be the primary means of access now.

While acknowledging that it can be difficult to test and repair wireless links remotely, Blanchard says, "We're up to the challenge."

This version of this story was originally published in Computerworld's print edition. It was adapted from an article that appeared earlier on Computerworld.com.

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