Penn State opens up world of possibilities through wireless mobile technologies

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Mobile wireless devices, common on many college campsues, have become a necessity in our everyday lives. Like many other universities around the nation, Penn State is opening up a world of possibilities through wireless mobile technologies — enabling students, faculty and staff to view library collections, connect to social media, Skype with colleagues and stream Netflix movies — all on their handheld devices.

These gadgets are changing the way people teach, learn, work and communicate, and are so firmly rooted in our daily lives, a clinical disorder called nomophobia (fear of being without a cellphone) has become prevalent on many college campuses. It’s clear these devices aren’t just used for Facebook anymore. Higher ed community members are using smartphones to help navigate through classes and campus life, and to stay connected to family and colleagues around the globe.

At Penn State, thousands of students bring an arsenal of wireless-capable devices to campus each semester and connect them to such network-intensive applications as Skype, Hulu, Netflix and YouTube. The University is working hard to ensure wireless connectivity is available seamlessly across all campuses and is implementing mobile friendly resources securely and efficiently.

“With the enormous escalation in mobility use,” said Kevin Morooney, vice provost for information technology (IT), “it’s essential for Penn State to make it possible for students, faculty and staff to have the connectivity they need for the wide spectrum of teaching, learning and research technologies available today.”

The rapid proliferation of devices coupled with a continual flood of data can put a strain on the University’s wireless network, agrees Chuck Enfield, IT manager and co-chair of the Penn State Wireless Steering Committee. "This fall, Penn State's network has been handling data from roughly 35,000 devices connected simultaneously on the wireless network, as compared to 25,000 last spring," he observed. "So, this creates a lot of challenges for us."

To meet this ever-growing demand, several years ago, Penn State upgraded and expanded wireless across all campuses. The time it takes to connect to the network has decreased dramatically — from about one minute to now nearly instantaneously. In addition, Wi-Fi coverage between buildings has been increased.

However, Enfield said the intrinsic nature of each specific mobile device means that connection problems can still exist. Many devices deactivate their internal wireless when powered on to preserve battery life, which can hinder their ability to use the wireless network. The device is still connected to the wireless, but it’s missing critical transmissions required to work properly.

“For a device to perform well on the network, it needs to be awake, transmitting and listening," Enfield added. "In addition, some types of devices are unable to connect to Penn State wireless because they don’t have the proper secure authentication methods required. Currently, Windows Phones, Blackberry phones, eReaders like NOOK, non-Fire Kindles and handheld gaming machines are not yet able to connect."

Toward a more mobile campus

To combat the ever-increasing need for Internet bandwidth due to the influx of wireless electronics, a multi-phased $8.5 million upgrade project will enhance and expand Wi-Fi coverage across Penn State’s campuses during the next three years. The project will make a number of additions and improvements to the University’s wireless system. For example, the wireless foundation will be serviced and replaced where needed. New equipment will be added and a significant amount of equipment will be upgraded. Areas on campus with spotty coverage will be brought up to new standards, and wireless services will be provided where coverage does not yet exist.

“We’re working on addressing the needs of our students, faculty, staff and visitors by filling in coverage gaps in areas with substandard coverage, replacing incompatible or outdated equipment and developing ways to manage the exponential growth of wireless use at the University into the future,” Morooney explained.

Anytime, anywhere ...

Penn State has already put the wheels in motion to make Wi-Fi available in residence hall rooms campus-wide. In May, the office of Housing, Food Services and Residential Life began providing wireless networks that will eventually service all Penn State student rooms and apartments. When completed, the new housing network will stretch to every residence hall at Penn State's nine residential campuses. The project will install approximately one access point in every three-student room to ensure complete network coverage.

In the meantime, all of Penn State’s residence halls will continue to offer wireless coverage in common areas and study lounges, and students in residence halls waiting for wireless coverage in their rooms will still be able to use a wireless router setup from Residential Computing (ResCom) to connect their devices.

While students are looking forward to total housing coverage in the near future, all Penn State community members can now visit http://m.psu.edu — the mobile version of the University's home page — for essential campus information and on-the-go needs. The mobile site is easy to use, with large icons that provide links to emergency alerts, a bus schedule, the campus map and wireless configuration, among others.

Help!

Fortunately, despite the expanding number of mobile-friendly resources, there’s just one simple process for getting connected to wireless at Penn State. Students, faculty and staff who need a helping hand will find one at the IT Service Desk.

Situated in two locations on the University Park campus — or reachable by phone at 814-865-HELP (4357) or email at itservicedesk@psu.edu — the IT Service Desk is available to assist Penn State community members with personal devices and wireless setup. Students living on-campus at University Park also have the option of turning to ResCom for computer support. ResCom is located in the commons areas of each residence hall.

Penn State's gadget and mobility device users can also find step-by-step instructions and download Wireless 2.0 installers, by visiting Penn State's IT Knowledge Base at http://kb.its.psu.edu/article/678. A Penn State Access Account log-in is required. To learn more, visit http://wireless.psu.edu.

For more stories about IT at Penn State, visit Current at http://current.it.psu.edu/.

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Last Updated October 09, 2013