UH Piloting Next Generation of WiFi Technology

Piloting the newest WiFi technology at University of Houston

This semester the University of Houston is partnering with Meru Networks to BETA test the next generation of WiFi technology in the University Center Satellite. Within University Information Technology we simply refer to the pilot as the “AC Pilot” because we have installed all new wireless access points designed to comply with the IEEE 802.11ac WiFi standard that is under development. “AC” promises to provide much higher bandwidth for WiFi users and will better support more users in a smaller space. That translates into the ability for students to use computers in class as part of their curriculum and for researchers to move around large data files without being tied to a desktop computer. In places like the University library where we see large numbers of students clustered together to study and work on projects we expect AC to give them the ability to collaborate at unprecedented levels. But we also predict that AC can revolutionize how universities are designed and provide services in the future. As WiFi bandwidths and stability approach that of wired networks, we can anticipate that the need for the costly copper infrastructure will be substantially reduced. We can envision nearly wire-free buildings where students, faculty and staff never need plug into a data jack.

Performing Without a Net: Piloting in the Public Eye of Social Media

When we first discussed piloting IEEE 802.11ac with Meru Networks I asked them two questions: “How confident are you in your technology?” and “How do you feel about performing without a net?” Nothing that takes place in a university ever goes unnoticed, especially if it involves the ability of students to get online. If the technology doesn’t work, doesn’t deliver at least the performance that the students currently expect, it will very quickly become common knowledge. You can’t quietly test technology on a university campus. Is it really worth the risk?

There are several reasons to move forward with a WiFi pilot for both the manufacturer and the University. From the manufacturer’s perspective, I doubt there is a better place to put technology through its paces. You can find anything on a campus, every type of computer, smartphone, tablet, software, or app. People live here, work here, play here, and make scientific breakthroughs here. From a University perspective, we need to be able to support all those very same activities on a daily basis and we need to do it on a limited budget and with limited staff. The sooner we can reasonably move to technologies that enable us to do that, the stronger we will be and the more competitive we will be as a destination for future students. Given the pace of construction on the UH campus we need to master the next generation of technologies as soon as possible so that we can design them into buildings that will open two years from now.

So we move into this pilot embracing the idea of transparency. We will use social media to keep our community and our peers informed of our status, the performance of the technology, and the lessons that we learn along the way. We encourage anyone interested in new technology or in our progress to follow along and participate.

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