Cisco, Duke To Boast World's Largest 802.11n Network

802.11n wireless

The network, which will cover more than six million square feet of Duke's Durham, N.C., campus will comprise an architecture of more than 2,500 wireless access points, Cisco switches and Cisco Wireless Services Modules to offer ubiquitous wireless coverage across the university's academic halls, libraries, residence halls and other campus buildings.

The 802.11n deployment is part of a $1.3 billion, five-to-eight-year technology upgrade plan for the university, said Kevin Miller, Duke's assistant director of communications infrastructure. The upgrade, called the Duke Digital Initiative, is now in its second year.

Within the next six to nine months, Duke plans to have 2,500 Wi-Fi-certified Cisco 802.11n Aironet 1250 Series access points deployed. While San Jose, Calif.-based Cisco handled the install, the gear was purchased through Dimension Data, a global solution provider headquartered in South Africa.

Nadeem Ahmad, Dimension Data's director of global technology, said Duke's pending 11n network illustrates a growing trend in which organizations are expecting their wireless networks to perform similarly, if not better, than wired networks. He said as 11n, which is available now in draft form, moves closer to ratification, VARs will be able to profit from the new WLAN standard's speed, range, reliability and predictability.

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"It's definitely a game-changing technology," Ahmad said. "There's going to be strong momentum in the channel as wireless moves from being nice to have, to being critical. We're seeing strong interest and strong demand for it."

Universities, such as Duke, are where VARs will see most initial success with 802.11n, Ahmad said. Many colleges and universities are moving toward "next-generation learning," which incorporates advanced, high bandwidth applications. 802.11n, he said, can accommodate a dense number of clients and the various device types typically found in educational settings.

"This shows great potential," he said. "When we talk to universities, in particular, they can see 11n can be deployed over a large area with great success. We can take that information and bring it back to other clients. Once you show [other clients] that this is what is being done on a large scale, it's great for the channel and the customer. It illustrates that it can be done and that this is a game-changing standard."

Duke's Miller said testing found that 802.11n provided predictable and reliable wireless coverage and consistent data throughput of nearly 130 Mbps per client. Miller added that tests also found that 802.11g clients such as laptops, also performed better "- at almost twice the data rate of the older wireless network "- when connecting to an 11n access point instead of an 11g access point.

Duke's Digital Initiative, which is focusing on creating "classrooms of tomorrow" and collaborative group study areas, also seeks to make video applications more pervasive. Using streaming audio, video and high-definition TV over Wi-Fi, Miller said Duke will be able to offer course materials, including digitally recorded classroom sessions, to users anytime and anywhere via the wireless network.

In a statement, Tracy Futhey, Duke's CIO, said 802.11n is the perfect tool to increase the speed and reliability of wireless networks, which has become a necessity in academic environments where massive numbers of people access the same network simultaneously.

"Wireless on our campus is absolutely critical to our 24-by-7 population," Futhey said. "Universities are an ideal testing ground for new technologies, especially wireless uses and devices, because students are spending their entire day on campus in a mobile manner. They live, learn, work and play on campus. At Duke, we really have the opportunity to apply innovative wireless technology that can meet the demands of a diverse, mobile user base and enrich their academic and social experience as a result."

Futhey added that the campus-wide 802.11n network will become the primary mode of connectivity throughout the campus.

"The value of a technology like 802.11n is about enabling new kinds of uses on our campus, giving our students new opportunities and enabling faculty to push the limits and try things that were not possible before on previous wireless technologies."

Dimension Data's Ahmad agreed that 802.11n opens up new possibilities for clients and for their VARs as wireless networks become more of a necessity.

"Wireless isn't a nice to have technology; it's no longer a convenience," he said. "It actually may become the dominant LAN technology for how you connect to the network and the Internet."