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802.11n wireless LAN adoption is booming in colleges and universities

Schools that are looking to future-proof their networks and support "learning anywhere" initiatives are leading the way in 802.11n wireless LAN adoption, according to ABI Research.

Universities are leading the way into 802.11n wireless LAN adoption, according to ABI Research.

ABI vice president Stan Schatt said new research on the education market by his firm has found that 2.3% of North American colleges and universities have deployed 802.11n networks.

That percentage may seem low at first glance, but Schatt said the number is quite high for a pre-standard technology. Also, the number is significant when one considers how many schools there are on the continent.

"It's a high number when you consider we're not just talking about universities but also small two-year colleges," he said, adding that the percentage is much higher than any other vertical industry.

More importantly, the number of 802.11n deployments is set to jump significantly in 2009 for universities and other organizations, Schatt said.

"The future is very bright because a lot of the Wi-Fi companies we talk to, other than Cisco, are reporting that up to 30% of their orders are for 802.11n," he said. "What that says is it's just exploding. In 2009, the numbers are going to be huge."

Many universities have huge 802.11n deployments planned, Schatt said, but their investment cycles are slow.

"The largest planned [802.11n] deployment I know about is the University of Minnesota," he said. "They have these twin campuses tied together in St. Paul and Minneapolis. They're planning a 9,000 [Trapeze Networks] access point deployment. But most of these universities, when you go through the list of big ones, go through a three-phase, several-year deployment. That's tied to their budgets. They don't have huge capital expenditure budgets."

Schatt said universities are leading the way with WLAN deployments because many schools are adopting "learning anywhere" policies. University leaders want wireless networks that allow their students to access information from anywhere on campus, not just by plugging a laptop into an Ethernet connection in dorm rooms and libraries.

Many schools are also starting to use Voice over WLAN (VoWLAN), he said. They are encouraging faculty and administration to use dual-mode phones with cellular and Wi-Fi capability. Any student who has ever struggled to get a professor on the phone during the two or three office hours he keeps each week will appreciate that. Schatt said many schools are also tying VoWLAN to real-time location systems.

"If they answer a page, you can see where they are over Wi-Fi," he said. "If they are in the library and you want to get some reference material, you can know who is closest to that material."

Universities are adopting 802.11n technologies over the most recent ratified standard, 802.11g, for multiple reasons, Schatt said. First, there is the competitive pressure of attracting new students. Students tend to have new laptops and handheld devices that are 802.11n-enabled. They are accustomed to the speed and reliability of 802.11n networks and won't settle for anything less.

"Schools like Duke and Dartmouth are encouraging faculty to use video – taping all lectures and making them available via the Wi-Fi network," Schatt said. "More and more universities are starting to use video, and consequently that leads to the introduction of 802.11n because of its bandwidth."

Universities are also choosing 802.11n as a way of future-proofing their infrastructure, since the network refresh cycle at schools tends to be slow. Once they buy something, schools use it for a long time. Schatt said it isn't unusual to find legacy wireless technology that predates today's 802.11 standards on some campuses.

"In talking to some of these colleges, their feeling is that if we go for [802.11g] right now, we're going to have to replace it anyway," Schatt said. "So we might as well future-proof our purchase, because it's going to be there for a long time. Historically, universities have not waited for standards."

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Shamus McGillicuddy, News Editor

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