At the Hempstead, N.Y., law school, cell phones and PDAs are as common as backpacks and textbooks. Students can sit in a courtyard and use notebook computers and wireless modems to link to the network to conduct research, work on joint projects, and communicate via instant messaging and E-mail.
The law school installed the network a year ago because a wired LAN with similar reach would've been far more expensive and because the wireless version offers a degree of flexibility that modern students seek, school officials say.
The faculty also uses the network to create course-specific Web pages and post information such as class syllabuses, lecture presentations, supplemental reading, links to other resources, and group assignments and quizzes.
Before the wireless network was installed, professors set up their own Web pages, but those pages didn't have nearly the same level of interactivity that's possible when students can access the data on their notebooks while sitting in a lecture, say professors that have embraced the technology. "I couldn't teach without [the wireless network] now," says Andrew Schepard, the school's civil procedure professor. Schepard puts all his class material online and says he likes the fact that resources on the Internet provide the most up-to-date information available.
Students like using the network, too. "You have a complete library at your disposal; you don't even have to leave your chair," says Ely Levy, who just completed his first year of law school at Hofstra. Levy estimates he's connected to the wireless network two to three hours a day during the semester and all the time right before finals.
The network uses the 802.11b standard for wireless LANs and consists of nearly 30 wireless access points installed throughout the law school's building. The access points are radio transceivers mounted unobtrusively high on walls and in corners in strategic spots to provide widespread coverage. They send data to and from students' notebooks and are linked to the school's LAN and the Net.
The law school uses RoamAbout wireless LAN products from Enterasys Networks Inc. for the network. It already used several LAN switches from Enterasys in its data network, so choosing the vendor for the wireless portion of the network made sense, says Gary Moore, assistant dean for IS.
At least 65% of the school's first-year students (about 200) have their own notebooks. To access the wireless network, students either buy a wireless 802.11b card ($126) or borrow one free from the school. "We're one of the few law schools that uses [the technology], so it gives us a real edge" in attracting students, Moore says. And it gives the school's hipness quotient a boost.
The law school factored installation expenses into its decision to go with a wireless data network instead of conventional wired LAN access ports. In 1997, the last time the law school installed LAN cabling, it spent $48,000 to install 120 Ethernet LAN ports. In comparison, the wireless network cost about $12,000 to install in part because it required only about 30 access points to obtain the same coverage. Each access point and port cost around $400.