CITES continuing plan to install wireless net

By Ebonique Wool

Imagine a time when there were no wireless Internet capabilities on campus. This would mean no wireless in libraries, classrooms or lounges of residence halls. To some students, the thought of this is terrifying.

The University has begun the Campus Network Upgrade project, to which the Provost has committed $20 million to improve the wireless system, Smeltzer said.

“I feel like it’s a huge thing. I don’t know any people who don’t have a laptop anymore,” said Sunny Hirpara, junior in LAS. “If I didn’t have it, I don’t know what I’d do.”

The University started increasing the wireless access on campus about two years ago, and is still working towards completing the network.

“Up to 85 percent of the classrooms have wireless coverage and each month we have more,” said Michael Smeltzer, director of networking for Campus Information Technologies and Educational Services. “It’s a fairly slow process, but most of that will be done by 2010.”

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    The system enables students like Hirpara to bring his laptop to his classes.

    “You need access to the Internet because most of the notes are on Compass,” Hirpara said.

    A total of 259 buildings are included in this project. Originally, 159 buildings required better cabling to make a wireless system possible. Later, 100 buildings were added to receive new electronics with wireless capabilities included, Smeltzer said.

    “There are still some challenges,” he said. “The push is to get the Illini Union done now. It will be turned up by the fall.”

    Foellinger Auditorum has been upgraded and has 50 access points, each able to handle a maximim of 160 people. This allows for everyone to connect to the Internet even if every student brought his laptop to class.

    “If you and 150 of your friends are all using the same access point, it can really get bogged down,” Smeltzer said. “That happened last year during finals at Grainger (Engineering Library), but we responded by adding more access points.”

    Smeltzer said Grainger will be totally upgraded by fall. It currently has seven or eight access points, and there were only five last year at that time, he said.

    The University is also working to improve wireless access in residence halls. In Barton and Lundgren halls, two floors in each dormitory have had wireless access points installed so students can get service in their rooms. Before, students could only get service in public areas like the lounges, Smeltzer said.

    Simone Baker, freshman in LAS and resident of Busey-Evans, said she would appreciate wireless access in her room because it would be easier for her.

    “I like the service and I use it all the time. It’s the only connection I use and I find it convenient,” she said.

    This feature of convenience is what the residence halls are trying to improve with the installation of a wireless system.

    “All of the rooms already have a wire connection in them, so this is a convenience feature to have a wireless connection as well,” said James Quisenberry, senior assistant director of University Housing for Information Services. “We’re trying to get a feel of support issues.”

    The wireless system is being monitored this spring, and it may be offered to the full halls of Barton and Lundgren in the fall, Quisenberry said.

    As for extending this service to other buildings, that may take time. Quisenberry said that now is not a good time to undertake a large project like this because of the expense of its implementation.

    “We’re going to have to do some surveying of our buildings and see what we can do,” Quisenberry said. “We chose these buildings because they showed the least amount of impediments.”

    Another possibility for the future of wireless lies in the outdoors. The University has considered providing wireless accessibility for outdoors, enabling students to get a connection on the Quad.

    “The Quad would be nice, that’s one of the areas I sit all the time,” said Hirpara.

    “There’s a new library IT fee that was instated this year. One of the things that was discussed was wireless outside,” Smeltzer said. “Once we get interiors done, the next logical things we would do is (the) outside.”

    The technology for an outside connection is getting better all the time, he said. A newer system, called Mesh technology, uses access points which talk to each other wirelessly, creating a mesh.

    “That technology isn’t quite there yet.” Smeltzer said. “By next year there will be a better way to get a wireless connection outside.”

    For students with laptops, the only thing limiting them would be rain or a low battery.