U’s wireless Internet coverage expands toward goal of full-campus availability

by Nathan Hall

The University is on track to make wireless Internet access available virtually everywhere on the Twin Cities campuses by 2005, including bathrooms.

Although information technology experts from around the state said the idea of an all-wireless school is not new, but the size and scope of the Minneapolis initiative – 8,378,000 square feet – is a first for Minnesota.

However, the number of students and faculty who will take advantage of the technological luxury has not been determined, according to the Office of Information Technology.

The Twin Cities campuses currently boast 120 wireless access points, sometimes referred to as “base stations.”

“Because of the way a lot of buildings are built, it’s impossible to reach every possible nook and cranny, but the goal is still to be as close to 100 percent as is humanly possible,” said Shih-Pau Yen, deputy chief information officer for Academic and Distributed Computing Services.

Because wireless computers work like radio frequencies, they still encounter occasional interferences from nearby electronic devices, resulting in poor signal connections, Yen said.

And while wireless capability might be growing, at least one computer lab assistant said lab traffic has remained steady.

“It’s just a matter of convenience to still come here,” said Tahzeem Jaffer, a University junior who works part time at the Walter Library computer labs.

“It’s a matter of choice and it depends on what college you get into, but a lot of people still come here because it’s easy to just check your e-mail and leave,” Jaffer said.

The College of Agricultural, Food and Environmental Sciences offers free network cards to of its students and faculty, Associate Dean Ann Hill Duin said.

Wireless cards, which allow laptops to log on to the Internet, cost about $100 in retail, Yen said.

Duin said the wireless initiative will not increase student technology fees.

According to data collected last spring, 1 percent of 18- to 29-year-old college students had wireless connections at home, said Mary Madden, research specialist for the Washington-based Pew Internet and American Life Project.

However, the survey was flawed because it only considered home connections and researchers did not poll dorm rooms, Madden said.

There is no set wireless standard for Minnesota schools, but several other campuses are already 100 percent wireless.

The Minnesota State Community and Technical College campuses in Fergus Falls, Moorhead, Detroit Lakes and Wadena have been wireless-friendly for at least a year, said Dan Flynn, chief information officer for the campuses.

“The Fergus Falls campus has 12 wireless access points (and) Ö was done through grant money for the disability center on campus to aid our disabled students and allow them to connect without wires from anywhere on campus,” Flynn said.

At Southeast Technical College, the Red Wing campus has had 90 percent wireless coverage since 2001, but the Winona campus covers only the student common areas, said Mohamed Elhindi, chief information officer for the college.

“The bathrooms got tested too, and it works if you’re so inclined,” Elhindi said.