By the 2003-2004 school year, Ball State students will be able to access the Internet anywhere on campus, thanks to a new wireless computer network.
Currently, about 10 percent of campus is covered by wireless networking, including the Arts and Journalism building, the Architecture building, and parts of Cooper Science and Bracken Library, said Fred Nay, associate director of computing services
At a cost of over $300,000, the university will purchase and install about 300 Cisco Aironet 1200 access points, Nay said. These access points, which are like ethernet hubs that use radio waves instead of wires, will cover all administration buildings, educational buildings and residence hall common areas with wireless access to the Ball State network and Internet.
"We want students to be able to open up their laptops or open up their PDAs [personal digital assistants] wherever they are, and be able to connect to the rest of the world," said O'Neal Smitherman, vice president for information technology.
Whether or not to provide wireless access in the residence halls is still being considered, but students with rooms near the common areas will be likely be able to use those access points, Smitherman said.
Nay said he suggested that students not bring their own access points for their rooms because they could interfere with the signals from the campus-wide network.
At about 1 Mbps (megabit per second), the wireless connection will be about 200 times faster than a typical modem, but still significantly slower than the 10 Mbps wired ethernet network that is already available.
However, the Cisco access points were chosen because they can easily be upgraded to handle newer, faster wireless standards, while maintaining access for computers using the older version, Nay said.
Smitherman said he thinks experience with wireless networks will help students when they enter the work force, as companies adopt the technology in their warehousing and customer databases. He also said businesses and students are doing jobs, such as video editing, that require mobile access to large scale central storage.
"What we're watching is a trend in technology that is much more personal and much more mobile," he said. "Some of the activities we expect to happen will require that a student be mobile."
For example, Smitherman mentioned students editing digital video on the scene, while storing the large files on a server.
He also said he believes the new access will help students study. When a student comes across a question while studying outside or in the library, the wireless network will allow them to get the answer immediately. Smitherman said instant answers make learning more efficient, make for better retention, and allow students to recall the fact more easily.
Both Smitherman and Nay said they expect the availability of wireless access will cause an increase in the number of students who purchase laptops.
"If you know you can go from building to building and be wirelessly connected, you may be more likely to spend the extra money," Nay said.