Four-year effort expands to campus classrooms

Florida State commits to Wi-Fi deployment: four-year effort expands to campus classrooms

Joan Engebretson

The proliferation of Wi-Fi hot spots at airports and coffee shops has whet users’ appetites for more–and once college students and faculty experience the convenience of wireless bandwidth, it doesn’t take long before they begin asking their information technology administrators to install it on campus, too.

Wi-Fi is becoming an important initiative for more and more colleges and universities. And for a large public university such as Florida State in Tallahassee, that undertaking can be similar in scale to that of a municipal deployment. Like other academic institutions implementing Wi-Fi, FSU has faced funding, security and manpower issues–and has found some creative solutions to all three challenges.


IT personnel at FSU first began experimenting with Wi-Fi about four years ago as a means of connecting several outlying buildings to the campus computer network without having to lay fiber. That experience taught them that they would need to address potential security vulnerabilities before expanding further, says Clint Ringgold, FSU coordinator of computer system control. “We decided to go with a gateway approach to take care of security,” Ringgold says.

A year of in-house testing followed. “We required people to log on to the campus network,” says Ringgold. “That empowered us to be able to take known user information from the university and if there is a security issue, we can determine the individuals who might have been involved.”

Manpower issues also were top of mind. “Part of our solution was that our network had to be able to be run by a very small number of people,” Ringgold says. “We have three people in our wireless group taking care of approximately 3,000 total users, including 1,500 on a daily basis.” Those numbers continue to climb and could swell to include all 40,000 faculty, staff and students as more and more computers come equipped with Wi-Fi cards.

Network administrators developed several computer screens that would be automatically sent to users when certain situations arose to help the users solve the situation on their own. If users have a virus problem or are consuming too much bandwidth, for example, a screen appears on their computer advising them of the problem.


FSU’s IT administrators installed Wi-Fi access points to cover about 75% of outdoor areas and 90% of the library. “We leveraged money that had already been spent,” Ringgold says, noting that Wi-Fi’s open standards enable the network to support access points from a variety of vendors.

The next goal is to bring Wi-Fi access to more classrooms, only about 2% of which are currently covered. “We’re in test mode of finding a way for professors to be able to turn off access during class to make sure they have students’ attention,” says Ringgold.

The FSU network currently includes 132 access points. Throughout about 60% of the network, users get bandwidth in the range of 3 to 4 megabits per second. The other 40% get between 1 and 3 MBPS, Ringgold says.

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