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>  News Releases >   2001 >   February

Wireless computer networking coming to Dartmouth

Posted 02/28/01

With support from its alumni, Cisco Systems, Dell Computer and Apple Computer, Dartmouth College will deploy a campus-wide wireless computing network by April 2001, giving students, faculty and staff the freedom to maintain access to the campus network or the Internet while making their usual trips around campus, without being tethered by wires.

"Dartmouth has long had a reputation as a leader in computing, as well as in research and teaching, and will be the first among the Ivy League institutions to implement a campus-wide wireless network," said Dartmouth Director of Computing Larry Levine. "This new technology will allow students and faculty to work on new applications and pursue new and exciting academic directions."

"What makes this project unique is its academic potential combined with the ease with which people will be able to access the wireless Net," Levine added. "We've worked hard to make our wired network user-friendly and pertinent to education. We expect the wireless Net will be just as friendly as our wired network, will extend current educational uses of our wired network, and will provide unique wireless applications as well."

Some of the possible academic applications include:

  • Smart classrooms where professors can broadcast presentation materials to each student's laptop in class, and respond to individual and group questions posed electronically
  • Researchers can collect and analyze data from remote locations and receive instant feedback for collection parameters
  • Students can monitor class or laboratory projects from anywhere on campus, checking computer system status, observing biological or chemical equipment or monitoring other instruments

The plan for the campus-wide system calls for more than 400 access points featuring Cisco Systems' latest generation of Aironet networking gear, allowing students, faculty and staff a seamless network experience from any part of the campus. After equipping their laptop or hand-held computers with wireless network capability, users will be able to access network services such as e-mail and the Web - as well as a host of location-based services currently being developed by Dartmouth faculty, staff and students.

Dartmouth's Thayer School of Engineering already has in place a small-scale wireless system that provides examples of the benefits of wireless. "Right now we've got eight areas, all where students congregate, being used for their wireless capability," said Edmond Cooley, Director of Information Technology at Thayer. "We've proved that this is the best way to provide Web access to all students in a cost effective way. One of the biggest benefits we see is people sitting and working together where they can easily get network access. This means there will be fewer students competing for the handful of hard-wired computers that sit along the outside of study areas and common spaces. It will soon become a viable and important tool in the education process."

Ease of use

The wireless infrastructure is based on the Cisco Aironet Series of IEEE 802.11b-compliant wireless local area networking products. The planned coverage will allow a user with a wireless device to work in any building or location on campus "Wireless network coverage will make it possible for students, faculty and staff to access information anytime, anywhere," said Professor of Computer Science David Kotz. In addition to the academic functions, "people will initially use the network for applications like e-mail and Web surfing. Students and faculty will find new ways of collaborating on projects using a shared virtual 'whiteboard,' within a classroom or across the campus. New and dynamic Web pages will take shape that will display material relevant to the wireless location, and no doubt faculty and students will develop applications we haven't yet imagined."

The new system will also enable valuable conveniences, such as shared calendars that instantly inform everyone of changes in class meetings. Several groups of faculty and students, including a development team called The Basement and several others associated with the Dartmouth Department of Computer Science, are already working on new wireless applications.

Alumni participation is key

Dartmouth alumni have been key to the development of the new wireless network. Several dozen graduates who work for Cisco Systems are donating funds that will be used to purchase many of the access points. "Alumni participation in this project is a sign of Dartmouth's long history of the use of computing in education," said Levine. "Dartmouth alumni graduate with a working knowledge of the power of computing. Many of those graduates, especially those now working in the computing industry, have a particular interest in advancing the computing environment at their alma mater."

To access the wireless network, users will need wireless-equipped devices. Many new laptop computers have a wireless capability built in - all the necessary software drivers, radio, and the antennae are pre-installed. Dartmouth is working closely with Cisco, Apple and Dell to test new hardware and drivers.

Laptops can be fitted with a wireless PC card for about $100; the card slides easily into a slot in the side of the computer and is ready to run after a quick installation process. Wireless add-ons for PalmOS, PocketPC, and other digital devices are also expected to hit the market in the first or second quarter of 2001. In planning the deployment of this network, Dartmouth is working with Cisco, Dell and Apple, using hardware and software under development to create compatibility between components.

Dartmouth has television (satellite uplink) and radio (ISDN) studios available for domestic and international live and taped interviews. For more information, call 603-646-3661 or see our Radio, Television capability webpage.

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