It's impossible to ignore how many colleges and universities have been swept up in the wireless local area network (LAN) craze.
Cornell University, Northwestern University, Boston College, American University and Montreal's McGill University are just a few of the early adopters with wireless LANs in place today.
Why are so many institutes of higher learning, which are often tentative to spend on IT projects, eagerly implementing wireless LANs? According to Alan Reiter, president of Wireless Internet & Mobile Computing, a consulting firm in Chevy Chase, Md., there are many reasons, but foremost among them is reducing IT costs.
"It's a way to extend the university LAN where Ethernet [cable] is too expensive to be put," said Reiter, noting that many colleges and universities utilize buildings that are many decades old.
"An 802.11b access point can be had for $75 or less -- even expensive ones are $1,300 or less -- and actually the ROI can be significantly better than dragging cable through buildings," he said.
Wireless LANs can also increase the productivity of students. Reiter said mobile connectivity makes it easier for students to bring their notebook computers to class for note-taking and other in-class learning exercises.
The technology also helps spur student interest in how wireless LANs work. Reiter noted the University of Georgia's Wireless Athens Group Zone (WAGz) project, which created a public wireless connectivity zone that encompasses downtown Athens, Ga., has spawned a great deal of new research on the educational and productivity benefits of mobile computing.
However, wireless LANs aren't without risk. In addition to providing hackers with a new gateway for potentially gaining unauthorized access to sensitive information on a school's network, Reiter said Wi-Fi technology can be disruptive if it isn't controlled.
For example, he said resident students often install their own wireless access points in dormitories, extending connectivity to suit their needs, but potentially opening a security hole in the network.
Still, the concept of a wireless campus has a bright future. Though Reiter said wireless LANs aren't yet considered a competitive differentiator for students when choosing between colleges, he said that could soon change.
"Wi-Fi is a no-brainer," Reiter said. "It's going to be in universities around the country, and around the world. In fact, it's going to be a reason for students to buy laptop computers."
FOR MORE INFORMATION:
Find out how San Juan college used a WLAN to create its untethered classroom.
Read our exclusive on Fidelia's WLAN management implementation at Northwestern University
Learn more about the University of Georgia's WAGz program
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