July 19, 2004

NetCom now offering wireless


By Stephanie Stinn

Effective immediately, Emory is ready to go wireless.

After four years of product evaluation, research and testing, Network Communications (NetCom) began offering wireless Internet service at the end of June to the University and Emory Healthcare communities.

"We had three goals: to get a scalable system that we could ramp up to serve the whole University, including Emory Healthcare, one that was cost-effective, and one that was secure. We thought, 'If we can't get all three of these, then we don't have a good solution,'" said Don Corcoran, associate vice president for NetCom.

NetCom found its wireless fit with Colubris Networks, a Waltham, Mass., global provider of wireless network solutions.   Colubris devices will act as "access points" for the Univer-sity's wireless connection.

The access points (which are small in size and relatively unnoticeable) are equipped with an antenna that picks up the wireless signal. An internal firewall ensures that Emory's existing network settings, security and management systems remain intact with the wireless connection.   

Another selling point for the Colubris device is that it didn't require the purchase of software for every client using a wireless connection; it uses the Microsoft Windows (98 or higher) or Macintosh (Operating System 9 or higher) platform already installed on the computer. The only thing a user might need to buy is a wireless card that facilitates the connection, said John Mason, director of architecture and engineering for NetCom.

"Anything that does Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol (PPTP), which is the standard for every private network across the Internet, will work," he explained.     

Emory's wireless system is based on 802.11g WiFi technology, which also is compatible for use with 802.11b devices. Loosely translated, there are different protocols for wireless networks; some are compatible with others and some are not. "G" is a newer version that allows better security and faster data speed and is compatible with "B," which is common in many portable devices. Essentially, "G" will work with nearly any wireless device--from laptops to handhelds.

Public areas such as the Quadrangle, Woodruff Library, Cox Hall and the Student Activity and Academic Center on the Clairmont Campus have been deemed "common spaces," where free wireless access will be offered. Individual departments and schools will be responsible for installation and maintenance of wireless services through NetCom. Total cost will vary depending on coverage area. Since cost varies per location, NetCom will establish a budget range with clients before any installation work begins.

Initial installation of the access point will be $1,250, which includes wiring, power and placement. The number of access points depends on each building's construction, size and shape of area covered (typical access point coverage is one point per 2,500-square feet). Monthly recurring cost will be $72 per access point, which includes maintenance, monitoring, replacements and upgrades. Currently, each wired Internet connection has a $15 monthly recurring cost and costs about $200 for an initial install of each connection.

Wireless on the Emory campus isn't a new idea. In addition to a NetCom-sponsored wireless trial run held in its own offices and at the Emory Orthopaedics & Spine Center, some individual departments and schools have installed wireless networks on their own and at their own expense, Corcoran said.

A centralized wireless system (like Emory's current wired Internet system management) will allow NetCom to handle all aspects of wireless on campus, will make it easier to monitor and maintain the system, and will be more economical for departments, he added.

"We'll know when we're having areas with problems; we'll know when they die; we'll know when they're being overloaded," Mason said. He also said that wireless users should prepare for routine problems (such as dropped connections) once they begin using the system.

Not all Emory computer users will need or want to take advantage of the new wireless system; wireless use will be on a department or user-by-user basis, both Corcoran and Mason said. For laptop users who work in many areas of campus, wireless may be ideal. For desktop users who stay in a single office space during the day, wireless may not be a good fit.

Just as the Emory community is undergoing a learning process about its new wireless options, so is NetCom.

"We did a lot of research and we found out that no two universities are doing it the same way. We needed to learn for ourselves," Corcoran said.

University schools and departments and Emory Healthcare entities interested in ordering wireless service should visit www.emory.edu/netcom for more details. All Emory Healthcare orders will be referred by NetCom through the usual Emory Healthcare Information Services request process.

For more information about the ordering process, please contact Dawn Francis-Chewning, NetCom coordinator manager, at either 404-727-6688 or dawn.francis-chewning@emory.edu.