MIT, medical center find benefits with 802.11n deployments

3,200 access points running older 802.11a/b/g protocols will be replaced with 802.11n devices.

MIT in Cambridge, Mass., and a medical center based in Alabama are beginning to deploy faster wireless 802.11n access points from Cisco Systems, networking engineers said in a Webcast Tuesday.

At MIT, as many as 3,200 access points running older 802.11a/b/g protocols will be replaced with 802.11n devices in the 12 to 16 months in more than 100 buildings, said Chris Murphy, networking engineer at the university.

A rollout of the new gear began last Friday, so the university hasn't yet seen the full capability of the new network. However, high-definition video was transmitted across the 802.11n network with "good results," Murphy said in the Webcast, sponsored by Cisco Systems.

Murphy said MIT, with more than 10,000 students and 11,000 staff, has a "very, very wide variety" of client devices, from handhelds to laptops. Many of the laptops probably support the 802.11n protocol, he said. Some MIT staff have been using voice over IP wireless handsets and had experienced poor coverage with the older Wi-Fi technology, but said they had full signal strength within the range of the new 802.11n access points, he added.

With 802.11n, the university could eventually provide Internet Protocol television, which requires high bandwidth, Murphy said.

At the Southeast Alabama Medical Center, in Dothan, Ala., testing is underway on 802.11n hardware, and results have shown that it "doesn't make sense not to move forward" with the newer, faster technology, said networking engineer Scott Lapham in the Webcast. He said any new devices added to the network will be "n-ready."

During tests over Cisco's 802.11n gear, Lapham found that speeds were seven times faster with an 802.11n client communicating with an 802.11n access point, compared with an older 802.11a client communicating with an 802.11a access point. Speeds of much as 165Mbit/sec. were possible, he said.

Using 802.11n technology, Lapham said he was able to transmit a gigabyte of data in less than two minutes. Currently, the medical center, with 370 hospital beds, has about 450 access points on older protocols. Uses of the wireless network include 180 laptops used primarily for transmitting bedside patient data wirelessly. The hospital also support 100 voice-over-IP wireless phones and a range of medical devices.

One objective of having 802.11n technology in the medical center would be to support more users per access point, Lapham said. Cisco engineers said their gear is tested to support up to 200 client devices per radio in the access points, but each radio will give optimal support to 25 simultaneous users. Cisco said it is testing 802.11n gear using Intel client chips.

In some cases, Cisco tests the gear with laptops running 802.11n that are mounted to robots that move through an office-like setting while transmitting to access points.

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