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

In the US summer of 2007, the college rolled out the first phase of the new WLAN, installing just over 720 of Meru's existing dual-radio 802.11abg access points. Then, last October, Morrisville started replacing those devices, one-for-one, as Meru ramped up release of the new dual-radio AP 300 11n devices. The replacements were done by late November with no problems, according to IT staff, and the network has been stable.

Student Patrick King, a software developer, was one of those who noticed an immediate difference. King knew during the summer of 2007 that "11n was coming." Copying a classmate, he was an early buyer of a third-party 11n adapter card for his college-issued Lenovo ThinkPad (about 800 students have ThinkPads with 11n built-in). The combination ran well on the new 11abg network. "It was fast, but I expected a lot better," he says. Then, one day last October as the 11n access points were being installed, King started to download a gaming video over a wireless connection. "I started the download, and then it just went through immediately. I went 'whooooooo!'" he recalls.

King's roommate is Ryle Watson, an entrepreneurship major, and he heard that "whooooooo." Less interested in wireless networking details, Watson is equally emphatic about how 11n has increased his ability to stay connected, anywhere, anytime. No matter where he is on campus, he's been able to jump from 7 simultaneous instant messaging sessions to as many as 26, and his four e-mail accounts are always open.

Both students have also noticed improved coverage and signal quality with the 11n access points. When the 11abg devices in their dorm, which was built recently and includes wired Ethernet ports, were replaced with 11n devices, wireless coverage expanded at once to cover the entire building. "I don't need the [Ethernet] jack in my room anymore," Watson says.

While there are no outdoor access points, the college planned to have the extended 11n range of the in-building devices spill outside to cover parking lots, where commuting students spend a surprising amount of time, and the spaces between buildings. Watson noticed that for the first time, he could stay connected while walking between campus buildings.

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