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4 tips to building a better wireless network

Tom Kaneshige | Sept. 9, 2010
Shoring up his wireless network to ride the mobile device wave, a CIO learns valuable lessons.

FRAMINGHAM, 9 SEPTEMBER 2010 - More and more iPhones, iPads, BlackBerries, Droids, netbooks and even game consoles began appearing on Bryant & Stratton College's campuses—and CIO Ernest Lehman worried they'd lead to big trouble.

These "crazy" mobile devices, he says, tapped unsecured and unmanaged "grandma" wireless networks at the college's multiple campuses across four states (New York, Ohio, Virginia and Wisconsin). Moreover, students, administrators and professors wanted to use their mobile devices to access the college's Web portal, get data about classes and grades, and conduct research.

Lehman needed to shore up these wireless networks before a serious security breach damaged Bryant & Stratton's reputation. "We needed to have something that could handle fairly sizeable densities in terms of numbers of students," he says.

And so Lehman created a blueprint for a secure wireless network that could be rolled out to the campuses. This network would end up covering an entire campus using wireless access points from Meru Networks. For better security, Lehman separated the network into three parts: student, admin and guest.

The pilot project started last year, followed by a rollout in December, 2009. So far, wireless networks have been installed at 14 campuses with three more to go. "Our estimates and planning indicate as many as 5,000 students will use the wireless networks at Bryant & Stratton in 2010," or 50 percent of the total student population, Lehman says.

Colleges, universities and even high schools are pioneers in the mobile movement, hoping to seize the enormous educational opportunities of iPhones and iPads in particular. As early adopters, CIOs like Lehman are quickly learning about the best ways to support these devices.

Indeed, Lehman has gleaned a lot from his experience and now offers four tips—"lessons I wish I had known," he says—that can help CIOs get their wireless networks ready for the mobile era.

1. Know Thy Mobile User

Lehman did his due diligence researching wireless network vendors and felt he had a strong grasp on the technology. But he wished he had spent more time understanding the needs of the mobile student user. "I don't think we cracked that completely," he says.

For instance, Lehman's team was surprised to learn that students wanted to print documents over the wireless network. Yet Lehman had restricted access to printers out of fear students would print entire books and bog down printers.

So Lehman came up with ways to allow metered printing. For the iPhone and iPad, Lehman had to find workarounds to enable wireless printing, including sizing up printing apps in the App Store. He's also eagerly waiting iOS 4.2 slated to come out in November, which will have built-in support for wireless printing.


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