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University cuts its wires

April 6, 2006

By the end of spring, the Davee Library will be equipped with wireless access for laptop and desktop computers.

The project was delayed because of the e-mail server outages and eSIS upgrade, said Gary Smith, director of IT Services. It was originally planned to be installed over spring break, but was pushed back a month.

“However, it is the top priority, Smith said. “We don’t have the staff to do everything at once.

The computer labs, study lounges and ITS Help Desk area in the basement of the library will be operational by mid-May, he said. The rest of the building is scheduled to be ready by the end of spring.

Once the Library is up and running, Smith said, South Hall is the next building IT Services will be adding to the wireless connection.

The Library wireless upgrade will cost around $40,000, and was funded completely by the Student Technology Fee fund, a special fund that supports information technology initiatives for students, Smith said. It’s derived from a 2 percent tuition allocation. The fund, which started a decade ago, has supported about $3 million in technology investments at UW-River Falls.

“When the student body voted to approve the Student Technology Fee that many years ago, it was in anticipation of the diminishing state support for higher education, and in recognition of the crucial role that information technology plays in providing a quality education for our students, Smith said. “This was extremely forward-thinking of those students, and the fund has truly been a blessing for campus and its students.

The wireless technology is being implemented at this time because the resources, both staff and budget, have been fully occupied by the implementation and subsequent upgrade of eSIS, Smith said. The budget to implement wireless has graciously been augmented by the students through the Student Technology Fee, which is allowing the project to now move forward as staff resources allow.

The rest of campus, including the new Student Union, will get wireless next year, according to the latest student technology budget.

Students will have the opportunity to sit in lounge areas in the library with their laptops that are wireless compatible and connect to the Internet, Smith said.

About 90 percent of universities are deploying wireless, he said.

All 10 of the residence halls, including South Fork Suites, are scheduled to become wireless in the spring of the 2006-2007 academic year, said Jason Winget, IT manager for Student Services and Programs. Lobbies, student lounges and commons areas will be the first areas of the buildings that will have the wireless connections.

“The major problems with the construction of the buildings are the cinder blocks and metal, Winget said.

Any project planning and timeline to implement in the residence halls has not been made, Winget said.

The wireless connection will help students with laptops get an Internet connection instead of having to wait and compete for the computer labs, Smith said.

“It primarily benefits the students, he said.

Faculty and staff in the physics and business departments and the College of Education and Professional Studies plan to use it extensively by teaching students how to teach with wireless, Smith said.

The infrastructure of the wireless will consist of access servers that control authentication, he said. This allows students, faculty and staff to log in with a Falcon account when their computer connects to a wireless access point. The wireless access points that are wired to the campus servers are hidden in the ceiling.

The Electronic Repair department wired all the access points with standard computer cable in the basement of the library, said Al Murray, supervisor of telecommunications.

“We hope it will work well because it is an important thing to the University, Murray said. “We want to know that when it is turned on, with possibly only a few minor bugs, it’s going to work.

Larger classrooms will have multiple access points, Smith said.

If a large number of computers are connected to the same point, the speed of the connection will be bogged down, Smith said.

“Wireless is one of those things that, the farther away, the slower and weaker it is going to be, he said. “The more people on one access point, the slower the connections.

The ITS Help Desk will provide assistance by telling students, faculty and staff how to connect their computers to wireless, Smith said.

Many newer computers built in the last three years most likely will have a wireless card to connect to the campus server, Smith said. If a computer does not have the card, students, faculty and staff can purchase the card at electronics and department stores.

According to bestbuy.com, a PCMCIA compatible card, which is required to work correctly with the campus access points, ranges in amounts from $39.99 to $80.99 with many brands to choose from.

The computers in all the buildings on campus will remain wired, Smith said.

“There are no intentions of pulling the wired connections because they are much faster, he said. “It’s a nice convenience, but it’s not a replacement for the wired connections.