by Tim Lohman

University of Queensland deploys “world’s largest” 802.11 wireless network

May 29, 20094 mins
GovernmentGovernment ITInnovation

The University of Queensland (UQ) is deploying what it claims is the world’s largest 802.11n wireless network to underpin research, access and collaboration at the university.

The multi-million dollar upgrade to its existing wired and wireless network will see UoQ end up with about 70,000 ports and 4000 wireless access points across the university’s four major campuses and 45 related sites.

The network will also underpin a major ramp up in new services to university’s 38,000 students and 15,000 staff, said Nick Tate, director of information technology services and AusCERT at UQ. It will also see the piloting of high-end telepresence systems to limit the need for travel between campuses, bring researchers together and assist in the university’s administration.

According to Tate, the project, expected to be complete in the next 12-18 months, will help address core business issues such as overcoming geographical diversity — such as providing connectivity to its Heron Island research site 80km off the coast of Queensland.

“One of our big issues then is how do we as a university provide that kind of access to our students staff and important members of the community,” he said. “It is important to us as that we do connect to the community as a university.”

“Overlaid on that is that we are doing serious research. . . and it is important that were maintain the integrity of the data. . . which we need to transport quickly across our networks and overseas. Universities collaborate a lot and need to interconnect.”

Mark Shultz, associate director of the center for education, innovation and technology at UoQ, said the new network would facilitate a range of new services, such as remote access and control of test labs and video-based assessment of students in areas such as nursing and orthopeadics.

It was also looking at a joint project with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, called Spoken Lecture, which would take video recorded lectures, strip out the audio and convert it to text. This text would then be time-stamped to make it searchable via a browser.

“We don’t see that students will sit around watching 50 minute lectures on their iPods — they don’t have the time or attention span,” he said. “They want specific information, now.”

“You might also find that if someone does a keyword search, other content on that topic comes up from other lectures outside their area — it opens up our content. If you make that service available beyond the campus, then high school students can also come in and see what’s done at the university.”

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Tate said that UQ had opted for wireless networks due the increasing prevalence of mobile computing technology such smartphones, netbooks and notebooks, and the large number of users wanting to connect in small areas such as lecture theatres and cafes.

“Wireless is important not only to handle density but also ubiquity,” he said. “If you want to deliver services across our wireless network, it isn’t very conducive for users if it keeps dropping out. It is also hard to deal with from an authentication point of view — making sure we have connected with who we think we have.”

Tate said UQ would address questions of secure access to the network through the creation of multiple security domains and the use of multiprotocol label switching (MPLS) technology.

It would also look to increase federated wireless access between universities and other institutions, such as Canada’s University of Calgary, to allow roaming users to access the network with the same credentials

“We’re also an Internet Service Provider (ISP) and we are increasingly connecting schools — we have about a dozen either connecting or connected to us – So we have to think about how to [securely] do that,” he said.

Giving a sense of scale of existing IT infrastructure at UQ, Tate said the university had about 70,000 current users, 21,000 permanent systems connected to the network, 13,000 mobile systems such as notebooks and smartphones, and about six supercomputers.