Connections +
Feature

WLAN on campus

WLAN has been a part of campus life at Concordia University in Montreal for at least five years, says Andrew McAusland, associate vice-president of IT department. But in 2007, the time had finally com...


September 1, 2008  


Print this page

WLAN has been a part of campus life at Concordia University in Montreal for at least five years, says Andrew McAusland, associate vice-president of IT department. But in 2007, the time had finally come to begin major overhaul of the wireless infrastructure at both its Sir George Williams and Loyola campuses.

“We’ve been on wireless in some way or another for years and have tried to cover as much areas as democratically possible,” McAusland says. “But what we didn’t take into account was how heavily it was going to be used by students congregating in common areas. Our deployment simply wasn’t designed to accommodate that kind of service.”

Over time, the influx of concentrated usage laid bare a number of inadequacies in the patchwork attempts at wireless network expansion. Access points could only handle up to 10 connections before dropping connections.

“We had 802.11b and g and all varieties you could think of,” McAusland explains. “Basically we just kept plugging in access points to cover up holes. We knew that the problems we experienced were 20% configuration and 80% technology. It simply couldn’t carry off the volumes.”

The first phase was deployment at the Sir George Williams campus, where Concordia began deploying 802.11n technology inside all campus buildings to bump up the bandwidth and throughput for access points. The university has also scored a first when it took its wireless mesh configuration outside to encompass a one kilometre radius outside the campus where services are available to residents on a subscription basis. (On-campus wireless services are free).

Internal access points communicate with a network of external antennas, each of which has a 200-yard reach. Each “core” antenna links to three additional ones to create an ongoing chain. Cisco Unified Wireless Network technology is used for the back-end hardware, while Bell worked with Concordia to perform the mapping and installation.

With the first campus fully loaded and the Loyola campus installation now under way, McAusland reports that up to 60 people can now connect on the same access point without dropping a connection. “The speed [with 802.11n] is highly noticeable. It gives us the ability to multiply connections to a large number of students congregated in one area. You can even walk across streets and maintain connectivity.”

A key to ongoing performance is constant traffic analysis and monitoring. “Unlike wall plugs and hard wire, WLAN environments keep changing. You always have to analyze where traffic is coming from and when it changes so you can manipulate your mapping techniques.”

Once all 400 access points are installed, the next stage is connecting the six kilometre corridor between the two campuses which will also capture a healthy share of the faculty and students living in the area.

“We looked at microwave and light path, but microwave doesn’t carry the speed, and they simply can’t go that far. We are using dark fiber for the backhaul,” McAusland says.

There is even talk of connecting with other campuses in the city. “If we can get another three universities involved, we can cover 76% of the city using their real estate.”