Staying Connected

Five years ago, several historically black colleges and universities invested heavily to wire their campus networks. They didn’t want their students left in the lurch of the digital divide. Today, wireless is the buzzword for keeping current with technology.

Freedom, mobility, and flexibility describe the wireless end users’ experience, but for institutions extending their networks to new locations, wireless means economy. Wireless implementation updates network infrastructure quickly, inexpensively, and with minimal physical disruption. Plus, colleges late to the networking party now have a chance to play catch-up.

Wired campuses aren’t sitting on their laurels. After spending over $3 million in 1999 to get 100% wired, Hampton University has augmented its network with 20% wireless coverage. Like Hampton, all of Tuskegee University’s residence halls have one wired Ethernet port “per pillow.” Still, the totally wired Tuskegee campus had 20% wireless coverage in September 2004, and a gift from Intel put wireless hot spots in 100% of the Tuskegee’s academic buildings in January 2005. Howard University’s student residence halls each have a plugged-in computing center, but the university’s wireless network also reaches all individual dorm rooms.

Prairie View A&M University in Prairie View, Texas, doesn’t have Ethernet jacks in every dormitory room, but one dorm room and all main campus buildings with academic classrooms have wireless capability.

Five years ago, Norfolk State University’s campus was partially wired with 10-megabit cabling. Two years ago, it started upgrading to a fiber optic backbone with gigabit bandwidth. “We still needed to provide our students, faculty, and staff ubiquitous access to the Internet and our enterprise applications for research, education, and administration — and wireless access is allowing us to do this in a cost-effective and timely manner,” says Margaret Massey, associate vice president for technology at NSU.

A special fund from the Commonwealth of Virginia’s Office of Civil Rights, which helps bring minority institutions technologically up-to-date, financed NSU’s wireless implementation. Starting in midsummer 2004 and spending an estimated $250,000, NSU achieved about 75% wireless coverage of its campus by mid-October 2004 and 95% wireless coverage by March 2005.

Today’s student is tech savvy and expects network access everywhere says PVAMU Chief Information Officer James P. Hobbs III. “We believe that Prairie View A&M’s commitment to wireless technology deployment guarantees connectivity on campus, providing a service that many students believe is essential to their educational pursuits.”