Colgate Brushes with Mesh Network

When is a mesh network not a mesh network?

Colgate University in central New York State knows. It recently completed the rollout of a campus wide outdoor network using Tropos Networks’ MetroMesh equipment — but none of the units are meshing.

“We just wanted maximum throughput,” says Rich Grant, the associate director of technology planning for the liberal arts school. “We have backhaul on all the Tropos access points. That’s an unusual implementation, but we wanted to maximize the number of users. It wasn’t about geographical area — we wanted to service a large volume [of users].”

Colgate’s foray into wireless started after the school’s Student Services group performed a survey of the student body, the vast majority of whom live on campus. Most reported owning as many as three to four IP-based devices. That includes everything from PCs to game consoles to handheld devices used primarily for instant messaging.

“To be competitive, any campus needs to support some kind of Wi-Fi,” says Grant. The network was installed for Colgate by Integral Wireless Solutions, an integrator based in Atlanta.

Originally, Grant hoped the Tropos hardware would provide a signal strong enough to punch through walls and give students, faculty, and staff access to the network indoors. That worked fine on the lower part of campus where most of the buildings are wood-frame construction. However, on the upper campus filled with big stone buildings, it required interior APs. For that, Colgate turned to Cisco products supporting 802.11a/b/g.

For now, the 5GHz 11a aspect is unused. It could come into play in the future for wireless VoIP. “It wasn’t that much more expensive to have a/b/g than b/g,” says Grant. “We’re hoping it’ll be upgradeable to 11n.”

Colgate uses Bluesocket controllers to manage both the indoor and outdoor networks.

The outdoor Tropos-based network also extends into downtown Hamilton, Colgate’s hometown not far from Syracuse. The downtown hotspots are limited to areas around the Colgate Inn (owned by the college) and a centralized park. “It’s not an attempt at a pervasive metro network in town,” says Grant.

The network is free to the college community of 2,750 undergraduates plus faculty and staff, plus it’s open to visitors for Internet access.

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