Wireless 11n net becomes a high-bandwidth way of life

An American university has 720 access points supporting 3,000 users on its high-throughput wireless LAN

What happens next?

From the IT viewpoint, not much beyond refining client-side configuration, setup and support based on experience with users, and gradually developing a more in-depth view of the WLAN's inner workings through the Meru network management software. Wireless security is based on Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA) on the 2.4GHz band, and WPA-2 on the 5GHz band, tied in with the college's Microsoft Active Directory.

From the users' viewpoint, almost anything. For Jean Boland, MSC's vice president of technology information services, the 11n infrastructure is a kind of "field of wireless dreams" -- build it and people will find uses for it.

That's already happening in the mind of Chris Nyberg, the academic dean for the college's school of agriculture and natural resources. One of the school's, and the college's, biggest programs is the equine science program, with concentrations in such areas as breeding management and racing management It was one of the first at Morrisville to deploy laptops for what are now about 300 students (90 per cent of them female). And Nyberg has plenty of ideas percolating on what to do now that the laptops have wireless access in the outlying horse barns, which also have classroom spaces.

Horses, it turns out, are highly data intensive.

At the foaling barns, about 50 pregnant mares are nearing birth in mid-February, with a Meru 11n access point blinking manically over the stalls. It's a critical time, with students staying onsite round the clock, with sleeping bags piled in the classroom not far from open laptops, most of them wireless. The mares actually have a wireless "birth alarm" that's not part of the Meru net, but does trigger e-mails and cell phone calls to the students designated to watch over the foal's birth.

Nyberg wants to use the high-bandwidth WLAN to transmit ultrasound images of the mares to detect pregnancies a month and a half earlier than is possible now, and share those images with off-site veterinarians. That kind of connection will also make it possible for the vets to monitor the health of embryos that are transferred to other mares who carry the embryo to term.

He also sees the possibility of linking wireless digital cameras with microscopes and wireless projectors or wide-screen televisions. The images can be used let entire classes evaluate the motility collected from stallions. A variety of wireless handheld devices, including bar code scanners, can now be used for precise data collection, and billing, with each of 100 or more horses at any of the college facilities.

The data is vital in such things as electronically keeping track of exercise schedules and training logs, avoiding duplicated services, and monitoring and adjusting the amounts of hay and feed. Because the college does a lot of work with and for horse-owners from around the country, accurate billing is a pressing requirement. Nyberg is also keeping an eye on the cost of embedded chips, which could be used to uniquely tag each horse. Right now, the cost is about US$35, which he says is prohibitive for large programs, but might not be for long.

"The ability to capture all that data wirelessly is very interesting," Nyberg says.

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