Emory Report

June 26, 2000

 Volume 52, No. 36

Focus: Information Technology

Wireless technology tested in library, DUC

Susan Mistretta is manager of learning technologies for ITD.

Wireless technology is a new opportunity for Emory to extend network connectivity. It can enable laptop owners to easily carry their own computers around using their own software while still connecting to the network.

Various University groups have explored wireless technologies over the past few years. Personal computer manufacturers recently adopted a standard for wireless networks, and a test run this spring based on the new standard yielded promising results.

The project was a collaboration among Information Technology Division (ITD), Woodruff Library Systems and Apple Computer. When the InfoCommons purchased eight Power Mac G4s, Apple donated an AirPort Base Station and several AirPort Cards to Emory. A test was constructed to explore two things: the reliability of the technology and how useful students would find wireless connections.

To verify the reliability, we constructed a simple test. The eight G4s are on the second level of the InfoCommons and Library Systems set up the base station near them. Since mid-February half of the G4s have been running with standard, wired connections, the other half with wireless connections.

People appear to sit at wired or wireless stations indiscriminately. There have been no more problems reported with the wireless computers than with the wired stations. And no problems have been traced to the wireless technology.

But the reliability of the technology is only part of the equation-the more interesting question is whether members of the Emory community find it useful to carry their computers around, connecting to the network wherever they are. To test this we made wireless available in multiple locations, put the technology in the hands of students and watched what happened.

Seven students participated in the test using Mac iBooks with the AirPort cards or Mac PowerBooks with Lucent's WaveLan card, connected through the same InfoCommons base station from the first test. Apple's student representative (who is also an ITD student employee) met with the students to install the cards and configure their computers. The students went right to work and roamed all over the library to see where they could connect, reporting their experiences through a LearnLink conference.

The results? Coverage was good in the public area of the second floor and intermittent on both the first and third floors. We installed a second AirPort base station in the Dobbs Center's Coca-Cola Commons in early April, providing coverage into the dining terrace. In addition, several of the students own their own base stations, enabling them to move around their residence hall rooms and into adjacent rooms.

Early in the testing period, the students reported increased instances of their computers locking up. However, none of those were definitively tied to the wireless technology, and the reports dwindled after a time.

The students have been enthusiastic about wireless access. They like using their own computers instead of Emory-owned computers in the library, sitting where they choose, moving around frequently while working on a project, and not tying themselves down with cables anywhere. A medical student found the DUC location particularly useful since it is near her classes.

As well as supporting laptop connectivity around campus, wireless can be used to provide temporary connectivity; Library Systems is using wireless to provide connectivity in the Materiel Center as part of the summer storage project. In this case, Lucent hubs, which use the same networking standard as the Apple AirPorts, are being used to provide connections for Windows computers.

There are several issues that remain to be resolved concerning this test. ITD, the library and the Network Communications Division have to explore security options and support costs before we expand the test further. The University also has to decide where geographically on campus it makes sense to grow this offering. A subcommittee of the ITD advisory committee is discussing where wireless technologies might be implemented and what rules might govern wireless networking at Emory.

If you have questions about the test, contact Martin Halbert (mhalber@emory.edu), Linda Byams (lbyams@emory.edu), or Susan Mistretta (usshm@emory.edu). Thanks to Steve Van Brackle of Apple for working with us on the test.

Return to June 26, 2000 contents page