Wires American University (AU), nestled in a wooded
neighborhood in the northwest corner of our
nation’s capital, was the first university in the country
Vanish as to integrate its telephone and IT infrastructure to
provide wireless voice, data and messaging
capabilities anywhere, anytime on campus. AU
Students partnered with KPMG Consulting (now
BearingPoint), CISCO Systems, IBM, Compaq
Computer, Foxcom Wireless and Cingular Wireless to
Reappear explore cutting-edge applications of wireless
technology on campus, while providing these
suppliers with access to new and lucrative student
on AU markets.
The school has deployed a distributed antenna
Campus system in every building that not only provides
omnipresent wireless broadband service but also
provides a truly ubiquitous cellular service
throughout the campus. As a result of its efforts, AU
was in the top 10 of Intel's quot;Most Unwired College
Campusesquot; survey, which ranks the top 100 schools
PHOTO OF CAMPUS COURTESY OF
AMERICAN UNIVERSITY BY JEFF WATTS. for wireless computing access. The survey reveals a
growing number of schools across the country
PHOTOS OF CARL WHITMAN COURTESY OF
AMERICAN UNIVERSITY BY BILL PETROS.
ISSUE 3, VOL. 1, 2005
AU Vital Statistics
Location: Washington, D.C.
Operating Budget - (Fiscal Year 2005): $329 million
where students have the freedom to wirelessly access
the Internet on laptop PCs — without a traditional wired Campus Size: 85 acres, plus additional buildings
connection — and stay connected and informed off campus
whether they're in the dorm room, library or outdoors at
Total Student Population: 11,101
the campus quad.
“When we studied WLANs on campus last year we Internal Schools and Colleges:
found only five schools with full wireless coverage. This College of Arts and Sciences; Kogod School of
year nearly 50 have ubiquitous coverage. Additionally, Business; School of Communication; School of
hot spots in the cities nationwide grew from 3,000 two International Service; School of Public Affairs;
years ago to 10,000 last year to 20,000-plus this year,” Washington College of Law
says Bert Sperling, president, Sperling’s Best Places, a
research firm that partnered Intel on the unwired
• 802.11 b/g Wi-Fi/cellular capable
campuses the study. “It is a big trend on college
• 700 coaxial cable-driven antennas
campuses. They are usually on the leading edge in terms
• Coverage area: 2 million square feet, including
of cultural phenomena.”
45 separate buildings
American University officials believe that staying on the
cutting edge of wireless technology is one of the keys to
continuing success in today’s competitive college climate.
Carl Whitman, AU’s Executive Director, Information
Technology, took time out to explain the impact of
wireless on the business of running a university.
Why did you make a commitment to wireless?
American University began an extensive deployment of
advanced wireless technology on its campus in 2001
because we wanted it to be a real point of distinction
for this institution. We believe advanced technology can
be a point of reference that will help the university
attract and retain students and provide our faculty with
new tools to enhance the classroom teaching and
What made you think wireless technology would
distinguish American University?
The growth of interest in wireless technology, and
wireless computing in particular, has justified this
initiative. Each year, our in coming freshmen classes have
become more technology savvy. It is important that an
institution stay one step ahead of its customers in
providing the product they desire. In our case, the
students are our customers and the product is their
ISSUE 3, VOL. 1, 2005
Describe the process of installing the antennas.
It was difficult to retrofit the buildings with the coax, but
we eventually learned the new skill sets needed to do
the job. The material is quite heavy and does not bend
easily - plus you run into hazards like asbestos, or
discover the need for wiring closets in locations where
there aren't any. It took a total of 14 months to
complete the job.
How does the hybrid fiber/coax system carry the cellular
Has it been successful?
When the signal comes over the cellular system or over
the Internet to the campus, it is converted to light using
Although we have not studied the effect of wireless
MobileAccess DAS equipment. It is multiplexed to
technology on our ability to attract students, overall our
combine signals bound for multiple locations to fewer
numbers are up and quality is up. We believe it has had
fibers. It is transmitted through the campus on fiber to
a positive impact on enrollment. Our ranking in the top
individual buildings, and then it is demultiplexed for final
10 schools nationwide by Intel lends to our credibility
transmission via fiber to individual floor wiring closets.
with students who have technology as one of their
The signal is converted back to radio energy and radiated
criteria in choosing a school. For a long time our
out through the coaxial cable (200 feet maximum) to the
admissions staff has recognized that students ask about
technology as one of their deciding factors when
choosing a university.
Why is the provision of cellular service a priority to a
What was your approach from a technology angle?
We believe that cellular phones are going to be used
We were looking for an all-inclusive wireless solution. We
more and more for data applications in the classroom
made the campus wireless in the way that you would
and the residence halls, so our system accommodates
anticipate, installing an 802.11 b/g Wi-Fi capable system
the two technologies.
throughout the campus. You can access the Web from a
wireless-enabled computer inside all of the buildings as
Our strategy involved using the cellular capability as a
well as outside. What distinguishes our approach is that
way to encourage students to use cell phones rather
we deployed this system using an in-building distributed
than to rely on the university providing the phone service
antenna system, which is unique among higher
in the residence halls. The traditional model had us
education facilities. It is a hybrid fiber/coaxial system with
providing phone service through the campus PBX with
700 coaxial cable-driven antennas, providing coverage
students getting long distance service through a
for over two million square feet in 45 separate buildings.
university-sponsored resale program. Monies made from
As a consequence, it is also capable of providing
long distance were used to subsidize the campus phone
ubiquitous coverage for cellular telephone users,
system. The revenue generation from long-distance
simultaneously. That is our particular edge.
resale, however, has dried up, along with the revenue we
received from pay phones.
ISSUE 3, VOL. 1, 2005
EWM: much marketing as we anticipated. Today’s typical college
So, where does the popularity of cell phones leave you in freshman already has a wireless laptop and a cell phone
terms of maintaining landline/long distance service? by the time they get to us. We don’t have to convince
them of the premise. They presume it and are expecting
Whitman: to discover it when they get here. We are well positioned
A lot of the landline business was consumed by cellular to fulfill those expectations.
phones as they became more popular and calling patterns Nonetheless, we have taken a gradual approach to the
changed. So, we have gotten out of providing the transition, spending the last two years preparing students
landline/long distance phone service for students. As of for the cutover from landline phone service to cellular
this fall, phones in rooms can only make calls on campus. phone communications in the residence halls. We have
We have engaged in partnerships with Cingular Wireless been promoting the change and trying to prepare the
and T-Mobile USA to do joint marketing to the students to community for this eventuality.
promote cellular use on campus. Both carriers have placed
a base station on campus that feeds the distributed EWM:
antenna system for in-building communications. The What new services does the wireless system enable you to
partnership includes a modest revenue sharing agreement. provide?
T-Mobile also provides public Wi-Fi hot spot service. Have Faculty use the wireless environment to get their course-
you tapped into that service? work to the students online, creating a virtual environment
that students can interact with, whether they are in the
Whitman: classroom, in the residence hall or studying elsewhere.
The relationship with T-Mobile is an interesting one. While It is becoming integrated into all facets of university life.
we already have our own hot spot service, it speaks to For example, our Kogod School of Business is
our need to accommodate guests’ Wi-Fi communication experimenting with RSS streaming as a way of staying in
needs while on campus. We have now added T-Mobile touch with students and enhancing their classroom
hot spot service to 10 of our most public areas as an experience.
overlay on our network. In turn, T-Mobile advertises AU as
a hot spot on its web site, which provides us with
Even though our students have no need for T-Mobile hot
spot service on campus, they might well be candidates for
using it when they leave the campus. Our curriculum
emphasizes being engaged in the life of Washington,
D.C., taking advantage of the many opportunities for
learning with the many entities –– government and
private –– inside the Beltway. Students will want to stay
connected as they travel off campus for internships on
Capitol Hill and in other areas of the city. To that end, T-
Mobile provides special discount offerings to our students
as an incentive if they want to become customers.
How have the students reacted?
We set off on this path fully expecting that we would
need to make an effort to convince students to use cell
phones and wireless-equipped laptops. But time and
reality has caught up with us; we didn’t have to do as
ISSUE 3, VOL. 1, 2005
savings. An important additional consideration is the
On a lighter note, this fall students will be greeted by a enhanced capabilities offered by an IP system for business
brand new service call e-Suds, developed by USA continuity support.
Technologies, which puts their laundry service on the
Internet. A student can access a web page to find out if It is a natural evolution of the old system. And, it is
the washers and dryers on their residence hall floor are inevitable over time since new telephone systems being
available. If they are busy, the student can request a text developed by the major manufacturers are based on IP
message be sent to a cell phone or an e-mail to a laptop, technology.
so they can know –– wherever they are –– when a
machine becomes available, and then they can receive
With the arrival of the 2005 class, American University
another message when it is finished. Programs that work
Washington College of Law (WCL) is taking advantage of
on this embedded infrastructure will mushroom, making
the latest technology by launching a “Podcasting” service,
students more productive as well as simply making their
which is a Web site audiocast to which students, faculty,
staff and basically anyone, can subscribe to and download
to an audio MP3 player. What spurred this innovation? Will
all classes be podcasted some day?
DAS is an expensive infrastructure. What is the ROI of this
WCL’s 2005 student orientation revealed that about 70
percent of students own an MP3 player. The school’s goal
There are two ways of looking at that. With the
is to deliver information to students and faculty in
distributed antenna system as a choice for implementing
multiple formats. Podcasts will be made from special
the Wi-Fi system, we are not concerned with an ROI type
lectures of high profile figures for those who were not
of calculation, although we do believe the DAS will result
able to attend event. Also, classes will be podcast for
in lower maintenance costs. We just opened a $45 million
students who are unable to attend due to illness, family
art center here. We have to outfit that building with an
emergency or other excusable absence.
Ethernet system, wireless connectivity, a phone system
and other systems. No one is going to ask me to produce
an ROI for services that are considered to be a business
necessity. We would not be in business without those
types of services in that building. As we approached the
wireless enhancements to our system, we believed this
was money we needed to spend to stay in business.
In the case of using the DAS for the cellular deployment,
the logic is avoidance of future capital investment that we
would have otherwise made in deploying the next
generation wired VoIP telephone system to our residence
halls. It is the combination of cellular and Wi-Fi that really
makes it work financially. In the next 12 months, we will
begin the process of replacing our aging PBX with a VoIP
telephone system, but it will only be for our faculty and
staff, roughly cutting that investment in half.
Why are you moving to a VoIP telephone system for the
faculty and staff?
We are interested in the benefits of a converged network,
and more flexible contact center applications. We also
look forward to taking advantage of the cost and space
ISSUE 3, VOL. 1, 2005