assistant vice chancellor for Information Technology, 308.865.8950
Much like laptops free people to use a computer anywhere, wireless Internet access allows these mobile users to log-on to the Web without being constrained by cords.
Deb Schroeder, assistant vice chancellor of Information Technology at the University of Nebraska at Kearney, said that UNK decided to invest in wireless Internet access as a way to attract students.
“The reason we chose to go the wireless route is because of what we call the ‘Net Generation’ students,” Schroeder said.
Net Generation students were born after 1980, and they don’t remember life without computers, much like generations before don’t remember life without electricity.
“People born in this generation expect their university to provide wireless service,” she said.
To meet the standards set by this new generation, UNK has implemented two wireless networks – UNKWireless, which is available to students, and UNKEmployees, a network specifically for UNK faculty and staff.
The UNKWireless network allows students to access the Internet using their campus e-mail username and password.
According to Schroeder, wireless Internet access was first available several years ago when about 20 wireless “hotspots” were set-up across the campus.
To save the university from a federal mandate that requires tapping capabilities for public Internet access, the UNK wireless service was configured for private access.
Soon after the hotspots were created, Schroeder said that it became evident that the university needed a centrally-managed wireless system, because they had three networking people monitoring the hotspots, plus 8,000 wired connections. As a result, UNK switched to a different networking system that had the capabilities to control the wireless access from a centralized location.
“It’s more integrated than what we had before,” Schroeder said. “They (the wireless access points) kind of take care of themselves.”
The wireless network for UNK faculty and staff adds extra security measures to allow users to access student data and financial data. Schroeder said the employee network is being used as a pilot program to determine the best way to switch student wireless access over to a secured network.
“We are testing a secured network for students and will be switching students to a secured network within the next year,” Schroeder said.
The unsecured student network only allows Internet access through a Web browser, so students connected to the current network are not susceptible to malevolent hackers or viruses, as long as they do not send confidential information while on a site without a security certificate, which can be determined by looking at the URL address. Web addresses beginning with “https” are secure sites.
Schroeder said the greatest benefit of wireless access is the convenience of being able to connect to the Internet from anywhere in a building. However, she said that behind this convenient access are a host of maintenance issues.
“You think this is very simple. You open your laptop. You walk around campus and surf the Web. You read your e-mail, and it’s through a Web browser, and you take this for granted. But there’s a lot of work going on behind the scenes to make this operational, and to protect the resources and the data we store on campus for students and employees,” Schroeder said.
Don’t expect wired connections to completely fade away though, Schroeder said, adding that big downloads are better suited for wired networks.
“I use the wired network for the things I need to do quickly. I’m going to use the wireless network for the convenience and the mobility, and checking my e-mail and doing those things that require sporadic Internet access, not continual bandwidth to download files,” Schroeder said.
In addition to slower download speeds, Schroeder said that wireless networks also face more interference problems than their wired counterparts. For example, cordless phones and microwave ovens can affect the performance of wireless Internet connections.
“When you have problems with a network, the worst is an intermittent problem. And sometimes it will turn out that an office near an access point has a microwave oven. Whenever, somebody uses it, it shuts down the wireless,” Schroeder said.
Whatever the drawbacks, Schroeder said the “immediate communication and ability to respond to problems” makes wireless Internet a critical tool.
“We have a goal to make the campus entirely wireless,” Schroeder said. In addition to wireless connections inside all the campus buildings, Schroeder said another objective is to provide wireless access outside.
Currently, seven buildings on campus – the College of Education Building, Founders Hall, Cushing, Ockinga Seminar Center, Otto Olsen, Thomas Hall and West Center – offer wireless connections everywhere in the structure.
Buildings with wireless access zones include Bruner Hall, the Communications Building, Cope Stadium, Copeland Hall, the Calvin T. Ryan Library, the Fine Arts Building, the Health and Sports Center, the Memorial Student Affairs Building, the Nebraskan Student Union, University Residence North, University Residence South and Welch Hall. All the residence halls feature wireless connections in the lounges.