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June 14, 2005

Storrs Campus Going Wireless

Wireless technology is now available on the Storrs campus in more than a dozen buildings in several different areas, and more wireless zones are being added each month.

By the end of June, wireless networking will be available in nearly three dozen locations, in more than 20 buildings, says Jack Babbitt, assistant director of network engineering and design.

“The goal is to be able to go from one end of the campus to the other and never lose connectivity,” he says. “That’s a ways off, but we’re moving in that direction and we’re ahead of schedule.”

The Wilbur Cross Building, Student Union, and Babbidge Library currently offer the most locations, with wireless access available in coffee shops, reading rooms, lounges, and lobby areas. A handful of academic buildings are also wired, as are several of the student dining halls.

Contrary to its name, wireless connection requires wires, says Ryan Kocsondy, project manager for the wireless initiative. However, once a wireless access point is mounted on a wall and connected to the University’s network, it delivers a radio frequency that can reach about 100 meters, depending on the number and thickness of walls or other disturbances the signal confronts. Faculty, staff, and students using laptop computers outfitted with a wireless card can then access the Internet.

“It’s very convenient,” Kocsondy says. “You don’t have to scout for a data jack. Just sit down, open your laptop, and go.”

A single access point can accommodate any number of people at the same time, whereas only one computer at a time can be plugged into a data jack.

There are trade-offs with wireless access, though, Kocsondy and Babbitt say. Speed, for instance, while more than acceptable, does not approach that of a hard-wired computer, and depending on the number of people using a particular access point, the system may run even more slowly. Wireless also puts a strain on laptop batteries. And security is “a key point,” says Kocsondy, noting that the federal government will not allow people to access government databases from wireless computers.

Convenience is paramount, however, they say. And by the end of the month, Conn will be as “convenient” a campus as almost any in the country, and certainly in New England, with the exception of Dartmouth, which Babbitt says is in a league all its own.

The wireless project at UConn is part of a five-year, $40 million technology upgrade at the University’s Storrs-based and regional campuses. Originally planned for the later stages of the initiative, the wireless project was brought forward, as officials recognized the growing importance of the technology to increasingly computer-savvy students and the soaring popularity of laptops.

Through May, about $300,000 of the $1.6 million budgeted for the project had been llocated for this year. Once the first phase has been completed, Babbitt says, the team will begin to expand the project to additional buildings and, in some areas, to patios and other outdoor locations.

Still, Kocsondy says, the emphasis will be on interior sites.

“We have limited funding, so you try to do the best you can,” Kocsondy says. “In New England, you can be outdoors comfortably for maybe six months a year, so our initial focus will be inside.”

For more information, and network locations, go to the wireless network website.