By Wayne Gallant, Director of Network Services, OIT
With the ever expanding need to provide connectivity to mobile workers and all the media advertisement for wireless broadband service, we often get asked what is OIT doing to for wireless service. The answer is that there are initiatives underway to enhance our existing wireless LAN capabilities and expand the use of cellular data services.
Wireless connection to a local area network is what most of us are familiar with and think of when we hear wireless service. Referred to as “WLAN” it is commonly known as “Wi-Fi” and by the connection standards 802.11a, 802.11b, and 802.11g. Almost every new laptop comes standard with built in support for wireless connectivity using one or more of the 802.11 standards, and a variety of inexpensive wireless routers which are available in just about all electronics stores. OIT currently operates approximately 60 wireless access points or routers that provide secure LAN connectivity through the wireless network identified as “SOM AIR”. Although these traditional access points support basic connectivity and provide some degree of security, they are limited in their capabilities, support of the 802.11 standards, and are difficult to manage. Hence our decision not to deploy any more traditional stand alone access points.
Our WLAN focus shifted to a plan for an enterprise system that will support all of the 802.11 standards, expand the coverage area, improve security, broadcast multiple networks, and provide for central management. After reviewing the major enterprise solutions on the market, Nortel’s Trapeze system was selected followed by initial equipment procurement. This equipment is allowing us to design and test various configurations and develop an understanding of the system. Our plan for the remainder of this fiscal year is to continue testing system capabilities, work with client technologies and security to ensure compatibility, and replace all the existing traditional access points in service. With input from the agencies we will then develop a plan to expand our wireless coverage areas.
The other wireless effort underway is to expand the availability of cellular data services through the incorporation of equipment and service provisions into the new cellular service agreement. An RFP with requirements for data as well as voice service is currently open, with proposals due at the end of March. Once an agreement is in place and the technical requirements are fulfilled, agencies will be able to procure equipment such as PC modem cards for their laptops. These cards will provide wireless connectivity to the internet where ever coverage is available.
Incorporating cellular data service into our wireless service architecture also provides an opportunity to support newer technologies such as smartphones. Smartphones are voice and data enable handheld devices with personal computer like functionality. Examples are the BlackBerry, Palm Treo, and HP iPAQ. The new generation of smartphones entering the market supports both wireless WLAN and cellular service. With these smartphones mobile workers will be able to stay connected to services such as e-mail and desktop phone, as they roam around buildings and travel outside.