Wi-Fi network to be extended in 2009

jaci.bjorne

A broadband Internet service license recently granted to NMU by the Federal Communications Commission could forever change the way that off-campus students, faculty and staff connect to the Internet.

This Educational Broadband Service (EBS) license will provide NMU with frequencies to extend wireless computing across a 30-mile radius from campus. This will provide members of the NMU community with an Internet connection anywhere in Marquette County according to Eric Smith, director of broadcast and AV services.

This new internet connection, known as WiMAX, is similar to Wi-Fi in that it provides wireless internet access to laptop computers. Unlike Wi-Fi, which can only reach a half mile, WiMAX signals are reliable for up to 30 miles. WiMAX is not only more reliable than Wi-Fi, but it is also much faster allowing users to download files at a faster rate.

“Strategically placed transmitters will provide uniform coverage throughout the areas we choose to serve,” Smith said.

With a project as big as this, there is a lot of planning and engineering required before installation is complete, and NMU is taking every precaution necessary to ensure that it is a success, he said.

“It’s NMU’s hope to have initial WiMAX service up and running for the Fall, 2009 semester throughout the city of Marquette and Harvey,” he said.

Smith explained that NMUs past attempts at providing wireless to off-campus students were not very successful.

“In the past, we tried establishing hot spots to help off-campus students access NMU’s network for research and school-related projects. The effort had very limited success because Wi-Fi wireless requires multiple access points in very close proximity to the notebook computer,” he said. “Wi-Fi is unlicensed and therefore subject to interference from other radio transmitters such as cordless phones and consumer computer equipment. Wi-Fi was never meant to provide wide-area wireless service.”

The EBS license is another technological advance that helps NMU stand out among other universities, said Cindy Paavola, director of communications.

“This puts NMU in a small, small group of universities who will be using WiMAX, and probably one of the only ones that will be using it for educational purposes only,” she said.

The WiMAX will be available strictly to NMU students and faculty who need it for educational use, Smith said.

“Students, faculty and staff conducting legitimate university business will have password protected access to this network,” Smith said. “This new service is not designed to compete with or replace commercial network services already available. NMU is constructing this network extension to help students who do not already have access to broadband.”

Marquette-area teachers who are required to continue their education in order to keep required teaching certificates will also be able to benefit from the EBS license, Paavola said.

“For some, especially those with families, it’s very difficult to teach full time and come to campus to take classes,” she said. “Once the WiMax network is complete, teachers throughout Marquette County will be able to take online courses that have the highest technical delivery quality right from their homes.”

With WiMAX, students, staff and faculty could save $24.99 a month which is, according to Charter’s Web site, the least expensive internet package offered.