Wireless Campus:  From Vision to Reality


Dr. George K. Kostopoulos

American University of Sharjah, United Arab Emirates





This paper presents the prevailing wireless networking technologies, and  reviews their current and potential deployment in the academic instructional environment. Reviewed are the two main short range protocols, that can be equally used in campus environments. These are  the Bluetooth, which enhances  intra-office ergonomics, and the Wi-Fi, which supports Ethernet data communications and is designed for inter-office environments. Described are the experiences of several cases of successful Wireless Campuses.  The paper also discusses the long term economic impact of the utilization of wireless technologies in campus, and the concurrent impact on the efficiency and effectiveness of the learning process. The author concludes with projections as to the adoption of wireless technologies in campuses, with thoughts on the possible role wireless telecom’s may play.




Advances in wireless network technologies are offering solutions to every communications infrastructure, regardless of its application or size. Wireless network technologies, thanks to the early establishment of standards, are being adopted by numerous major chip manufacturers and telecommunications, who are collectively producing an avalanche of products and services.


The same way stationary telephony is being progressively replaced by the wireless, cabled networking will be replaced by the short range, medium range and long range wireless networking. When it comes to drawing benefits out of technology advances, educational institutions do not differ from any other sector. Furthermore, they should be leading in the use of  tomorrow’s technologies, since educational institutions are preparing their constituencies today for the capture of tomorrow. Many do believe that “A Wireless Campus will improve our students’ overall college experience by giving them greater freedom and mobility.” [1].


Wireless campus has been the dream of every academic CIO, network administrator, network designer and network technician, since network cabling installation and maintenance is a major cost center in any organization. Techno-economic studies are demonstrating that in many instances the mere cost of the annual cabled network maintenance is more expensive than the installation of a wireless equivalent. But, “Still, the issue for most schools remains whether there is enough value in wireless infrastructure to justify the cost.” [2].


With the new short and  medium range wireless technologies the concept of wireless data transfers will extend even to the home computers where all devices (keyboard, mouse, joystick, printer,  scanner, headset, microphone, cellular phone, PDA, etc) together with the computer will be forming a  “cableless” wireless Personal Area Network,  PAN.




In this paper, the short and medium range wireless networking technologies are being reviewed, and their deployment in campuses is being discussed. Bluetooth is the short range, up 30 feet, wireless micro LAN technology, while the Wi-Fi is the medium range, up to 1,500 feet, wireless mini LAN technology.  Both technologies  use the same unlicenced frequency spectrum of 2.4 GHz, and are both supported by organized industrial-business consortia that promote their orderly and continuous enhancements. While transmissions do not reach great distances, they do however penetrate through non metal walls and floors.


As an organization introduces and implements a new technology, especially in data communications, it must be recognized that the technology despite its present high cost to benefit ratio  “. . . has a lifespan of three to five years.” [3].


The Bluetooth Protocol


Bluetooth is the commercial name of a data communications protocol developed by the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers)  and it is technically known as the IEEE 802.15.1 - 1Mbps WPAN (Wireless Personal Area Network) Protocol. Its current (2001) version is Bluetooth 1.1.  The protocol’s aim is to provide “. . . standards for low-complexity and low-power consumption wireless connectivity.” [4].


In May 1998, the Bluetooth SIG (Special Interest Group) was formed to supports its evolution [5]. The Group was  founded by  industry’s  telecommunications and microchip giants including  3Com, Erickson, IBM, Intel, Lucent, Microsoft, Motorola, Nokia and Toshiba, and it is now a consortium with a present membership of over 2,100 [6].  It is estimated that this year’s delivery of Bluetooth devices to applications developers will reach 55 million, while the forecasters project a continuous annual doubling of the demand [7].


The Bluetooth  protocol operates at an unlicenced portion of the ISM (Industrial Scientific Medicine) frequency spectrum and its regulatory range is 2.4000 to 2.4835 Ghz. The specifications provide for three power classes, allowing maximum power outputs to the antenna of 100mW, 2.5mW and 1mW, which translates to a range of about 30 feet.  The data transmission rate is at about 1Mbps with optional encryption. Bluetooth provides two connectivity modes. The point-to-point is for exclusive data communication between two units, and the  point-to-multipoint connectivity is for limited  networking   [8].


The objective of the Bluetooth technology is to meet the needs for short distance secure communication. There is a wide range of applications for Bluetooth. An examples is,  headset to handset communication in cellular telephony, where the two units may be only a foot or two apart [9]. Another one is intra-office wireless networking, where the desktop computer wirelessly communicates with all devices, such as keyboard, mouse, printers, scanners, laptop, cellular phone, etc. Such networks can have one master and  up to seven slave units. In the  Bluetooth lingo they are called piconets and can  operate in clusters forming a scatternet  [8].



Bluetooth Protocol Basic Characteristics


   IEEE 802.11b

Data Rate

   1 Mbps

Frequency Band 

   2.4 GHz  to  2.4835GHz

Data Channels



   30 feet to  50 feet 


   40 bit WEP encryption

Data Integrity

   Forward Error Correction, FEC


   Ethernet equivalent performance

Power Classes

   1mW    2.5 mW     100mW


   UsersUp to 7  simultaneously

Chip Cost

   $5 to $10


Figure 1. Bluetooth Protocol Basic Characteristics


Bluetooth will undoubtedly find wide application in access control, and it is now being embedded  in other devices such as cellular phones, pagers, as well as in automobiles. Presently, the Bluetooth technology comes in a chip set, but it is expected that within 2001 it will be integrated into a single chip opening up an even wider range of applications. It is believed that “2002 will be the year of Bluetooth” [7].                       


The Wi-Fi  Protocol


Wi-Fi, Wireless Fidelity, is the commercial name of a data communications protocol developed by the IEEE, and it is technically known as the IEEE 802.11 - Multi-rate DSSS  (Direct Sequence Spread Spectrum) Protocol. Its current (2001) version is 802.11b HR (High Rate). Wi-Fi is the wireless equivalent of the IEEE 802.3 wired Ethernet protocol [10].


The protocol’s aim is to provide a universal standard for a wireless LAN infrastructure thus creating an industry unified, at least when it comes to standards. Through Wi-Fi  . .  interoperability  with other Wi-Fi certified products . . ” is guaranteed [11].


Interested parties, such as, technology developers and OEM companies, have  formed the Wireless Ethernet Compatibility Alliance, WECA,  to supports certification of Wi-Fi equipment.  The alliance was established by  industry’s network and microchip giants including  3Com, Cisco, Sony, Intel, Motorola, Nokia and Toshiba, and it is now serving as a Wi-Fi equipment clearing house with a present membership of over 100 [12].




Wi-Fi Protocol Basic Characteristics


   IEEE 802.11b

Data Rates

   1 Mbps,     2 Mbps,  5.5 Mbps,  11 Mbps  and soon  22 Mbps

Frequency Band

   2.4 GHz  to  2.4835GHz

Data Channels



  600 feet to 1,500 feet   depending on the employed data rate


  40 bit, 64bit or 128 bit WEP encryption




  Ethernet equivalent performance


  Up to 128 simultaneously

Access Point Cost

   $250   to   $800

Mobile Card Cost

   $50  to   $200

Operating Systems

   Linux,   Windows 95, 98, NT, 2000, ME  Notebooks    Mac PowerBooks


Figure 2. Wi-Fi Protocol Basic Characteristics 



The Wi-Fi, also, operates at the same unlicenced portion of the ISM frequency spectrum and its regulatory range is 2.4000 GHz to 2.4835 GHz. The specifications provide for  four data transmission rates, namely, 11 Mbps , 5.5 Mbps, 2 Mbps and 1 Mbps. The corresponding  operating ranges, which are inversely proportional to the data rates,  respectively vary  from 600 feet, or less for the highest rate,  to up to 1,500 feet for the lowest one. Plans are underway to increase the data rate to 22 Mbps [13].               


Communications privacy is supported by mainly two options the silver, which implements a 64bit encryption key, and the gold, which implements a 128bit key. Some Wi-Fi manufacturers, however, produce equipment with a 40bit encryption key, which is sufficient for low security data transmissions.  Although Wi-Fi is at its infancy, the next generation of Wi-Fi Wireless LAN equipment are already being promoted. They will operate at 5 GHz and will support data rates of 54 Mbps [14].





In a wireless Wi-Fi system there are three components, which thanks to the followed standard, they offer interoperability, although there are developed by numerous competing companies. These are the  Access Point, AP, the wireless card and the associated software.



Access Point 


The Wi-Fi system’s central component is the Access Point. This is the unit that interfaces the “wired” world with the wireless one. On one side, it communicates with the organization’s network, while on the other side,  it serves as a router  meeting  the data needs of the mobile units. The AP can provide shared Internet access using Network Address Translation, NAT. It takes the size of a textbook, and may be found in a single or in dual antenna configuration.


Wireless Card


On the other side of the air space is the mobile unit interface. This is a complete data transceiver card that is packaged in the PCMCIA format for interoperability. The card simply enters the notebook computer PCMCIA slot, from where it interfaces with the various applications. In the case of desktop computers, the network card has a PCMCIA slot connector mounted on it for the insertion of the wireless interface PCMCIA card. Some cards also provide wired network connection for dual access flexibility.




The Access Point and the Wireless Card are both accompanied  by driving software  that support almost all general purpose operating systems, from the Linux to the Macintosh.


The Virtual Laboratory


The laboratory is wherever the Access Point is located. This may be an actual laboratory setting, the library, the college cafeteria, the student union or the open campus space. The utility that is being offered by a wireless system is of unprecedented dimensions, only limited by the imagination of the campus CIO.


Looking Back


To best appreciate the wireless networking offerings, we need to momentarily compare it to the wired one in terms of acquisition costs, maintenance costs and performance.


For the sake of this comparison let us consider a new fifty station computer laboratory. Should the university treat it as a computer laboratory or as a study area?   In today’s campus studystyle, every corner is a social/study area. Therefore the considered computer laboratory will eventually fall in this category - a study area. Should the school provide computers for that laboratory-area?


Definitely not, and for numerous reasons. Students must have their very own laptop computers, not to alleviate the school of the computer costs, but for them to become as intimate as possible with information systems technology and with what it can do for them.  Computers are not anymore a school provided infrastructure, while availability of  Internet access is, at least today.




Economic Considerations


The next question is should this access be provided wired or wirelessly ? The mere cost of the laboratory cabling  (material, installation and testing)  may easily reach $3,000, while the cost of the best Wi-Fi  Access Point that will service up to 128 users is less than $1,000.


Even if the costs were reversed, only the convenience of the wireless access would fully justify the expense. As the Internet is revolutionizing the way services are being delivered, the wireless networking is revolutionizing the way we access the services. 


WIRELESS CAMPUSES - A small sample


There are numerous campuses that have introduced wireless networking to various extent, and the consensus is the same -  there is no way of going back to cable. Below is a survey of  “wireless campuses” that range from small community colleges to mega universities. Their experiences are as diverse as their campuses.


University of Southern Mississippi. When the time came for network wiring modernization the projected cost indicated that $75,000, on the average,  will be needed for each of the 102 buildings of the various campuses. Simple arithmetic indicates that $7,650,000 will be needed for the project. A review of the alternate technology - the wireless - indicated that $9,000, on the average, would be sufficient to fully cover one building. Beyond the convenience of the wireless access the university saved $6,732,000. The per building Access Points averaged to six [15].                                                  

Delaware County Community College.  DCCC, located in Media, Pennsylvania, is a pioneer in wireless networking. With a $20,000 investment and technological support by Lucent Technologies, the 100–acre campus turned wireless with only 20 Access Points. Students claim that the wireless access, of less nominal bandwidth, is faster than the wired one. DCCC proudly state that they are “. . . serious about wireless . . . it’s the only way we can stay ahead . . .” [16].


Buena Vista University. The vision at this Storm Lake, Iowa technological  university of 1,250 students was to instantly upgrade itself to wireless status.. Their approach was radical. With $2 million the 60-acre university campus was provided with 130 Access Points, and  each student with a Gateway Solos laptop computer to keep until graduation. Now the student to student and the student to instructor interaction has taken a new different dimension, “ . . an entire class can be interactive and collaborate on projects.” [17].


Carnegie Mellon University. This is an ongoing project named Andrew, where Lucent Technologies is providing all material and technological support, worth close to $1 million, in return for the derived experience and product and service promotion. Having started with 100 Access Points, AP, the system accommodates 30 laptops per AP and offers data transfer rates of 2Mbps. In a collaborative effort the two organizations are developing a wireless campus design simulation tool which, given the campus terrain, the tool will be able to produce an optimum design for the location of the Access Points [18].



Other Collaborations.  Industry-academia cooperation is very common in this new high-tech area. Lucent Technologies is also working with Rockford College in Rockford, Illinois, ATT is funding wireless networking for the Miami Edison High School in Miami, Florida, Nokia aims at creating a model wireless campus at the Minnesota State University at Mankato, while Raytheon is similarly helping the State University of New York at Morrisville [19 - 22].




Being new technologies, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi come with a variety of concerns. The most discussed ones are security, privacy, cost amortization and dead spots.

Security. With a physically unsecure medium – the air – intrusion is an issue, although smart firewalls should be able to accommodate any level of desired security.

Privacy. Both protocols, especially the Wi-Fi, do provide strong encryption capabilities, and their exercise should offer almost absolute privacy.

Interference. This is a somewhat difficult issue because the 2.4 GHz frequency band is unlicenced, and no one can be prohibited from using it. However, restrictions on in campus use of competing equipment or services should minimize the possible problem.

Cost Amortization. Although there are significant savings derived from the replacement of cabled networks by wireless ones, schools do benefit from the opportunity and charge technology fees.

Dead Spots. Physical obstructions like walls, metal furniture and human beings do absorb or reflect the signals causing undesirable signal attenuation. However, a diligent selection of Access Point locations, along with a liberal policy as to their number of Access Points would alleviate the problem.




Today’s mobile business world demands access to information that is immediate, reliable and free of time or place constraints. This level of expectations has also moved into academia, where it is realized that a fast moving world  calls for an at least equally fast learning process. A process where the transfer of knowledge and ideas takes place at electronic speeds and it is uninhibited of place and time. 


Wireless LANs and the Wi-Fi technology have come to the rescue giving scholars unprecedented freedom of movement. Surprisingly, wireless LANs not only do they offer superior service compared to the wired one, but  also cost by far less. 


As for the intra-office ergonomy the the Bluetooth has come to the rescue. A technology that will eventually eliminate the inconvenient cabling maze that we have in our workplace. In closing, the first decade of the Millennium will be identified as Introduction to Wireless, offering unprecedented productivity increase in the business world as well as in academia.


Generally, there is a strong resistance to change in the academic world, and although there are significant economic benefits in going wireless and high-tech there is reluctance to such  transitions. The timing is ideal for wireless LAN developers to take bold initiatives, like those of the above mentioned companies, and encourage campuses into turning wireless.



[1]   Wireless Integration Project                                                     

http://www.ecu.edu/itcs/newsletter/nov2000/Wireless%20ntegration%20project.htm         (03/03/2001)

[2]   Wireless on Campus Syllabus - (November 2000 Volume 14, No. 4)

http://www.syllabus.com                                                                                       (12/4/2000)

[3]   Wireless Campus: IT Vice President Warner looks forward

http://www.bc.edu/bc_org/rvp/pubaf/chronicle/v8/s3/warner.html                                 (02/15/2001)

[4] 802.15 Working Group for Wireless Personal Area Networks

http://standards.ieee.org/wireless/overview.html                                                                          (4/19/2001)

[5]   Bluetooth Special Interest Group

http://www.bluetooth.com/sig/sig/sig.asp                                                                 (04/01/2001)

[6]  Broadcom Unveils Bluetooth Radio Chip for Cell Phones

http://www.mobilecomputing.com/shownews.cgi?1582                                                            (4/18/2001)

[7] Bluetooth and Beyond

http://www.mobilecomputing.com/showarchives.cgi?106                                             (4/18/2001)

[8]  Bluetooth 1.1 Specification - 22 February 2001

http://www.bluetooth.com/developer/specification/specification.asp                             (4/10/2001)

[9] Voice over Bluetooth: Getting Its start as a Wireless Accessory foe a Wireless Handset

http://www.rfglobalnet.com/content/news/article.asp?DocID={83682EAF-0E5C-11D5-A770-00D0B7694F32}                                                                                                      (3/1/2001)

[10]   802.11 Working Group for Wireless Local Area Networks

http://standards.ieee.org/wireless/overview.html                                                                    (4/19/2001)

[11]  Wireless Newsfactor.com/perl/story/4805.html

http://www.wirelessnewsfactor.com/perl/story/4805.html                                                         (4/17/2001)

[12]  Wireless Ethernet Compatibility Alliance

http://www.wi_fi.net/index.html                                                                                          (4/19/2001)

[13]  The Survivor's Guide to 2001: Mobile and Wireless Technology

http://www.networkcomputing.com/1125/1125mobile1.html                                          (4/19/2001)

[14]  Testing the Wireless LAN Waters

http://www.crn.com/components/search/Article.asp?ArticleID=21246                            (4/19/2001)

[15]   The Wireless Revolution

http://chronicle.com/free/2000/10/200010090t.htm                                                       (10/9/2000)

[16]   How One Tech-Savvy Community College Has Joined The Wireless Elite

http://www.universitybusiness.com/0101/techbrief_wireless.html                                              (03/23.2001)

[17]   Buena Vista Brags it is Americas only Wireless Campus      

http://www.dmregister/news/stories/c5917686/12215796.html                                        (08/30/2000)

[18]   CMU to Become Wireless Campus

http://www.triblive.com/digage/dandr727.html                                                                       (03/09/2001)

[19]   Rockford College Installing Wireless Campus Network

http://www.rockfordcollege.com/whatsnew/f3prwireless.html                                       (03/19/2001)

[20]   Grants to Fund Florida Education Summit, Wireless Campus System

http://www.att.com/press/0496/960416.cha.html                                                                     (12/11/2000)

[21]   Nokia and Midwest Establish Model Wireless Campus at Minnesota State

http://www.msusa.net/wireless_campus.htm                                                             (03/10/2001)

[22]   SUNY Morrisville is America’s Most Wired Two-Year Institution

http://www.morrisville.edu/campus/collegerel/pdf/wired.pdf                                         (04/19/2000)

APPENDIX  - Table of Acronyms






















Access Point

Chief Information Officer


Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol

Direct Sequence Spread Spectrum


Forward Error Correction

Giga Hertz - 1,000,000,000 Hertz


High Rate

Institute of Electrical and Electronics



Industrial Scientific Medicine

Local Area Network



Milli-Watt – 0.001 Watt













PDA                 SIG









Network Address Translation

New Technology


Original Equipment Manufacturer

Operating System


Personal Area Network

Personal Computer Memory Card International Association


Personal Digital Assistant

Special Interest Group


Wireless Ethernet Compatibility Alliance

Wired Equivalent Privacy


Wireless Fidelity

Wireless Personal Area Network


The Author

                                Dr. George Kostopoulos is a Professor of Information Systems with the College of Business Administration at the Texas A&M International University. He holds degrees from  the Arizona State University, Ph..D. and M.S. in Electrical and Computer Engineering, the California State Polytechnic University, M..S. in Economics, and the Pacific States University, B.S. in Electronics Engineering.


After his first graduation and until 1975, he served in the defense electronics industry in various capacities holding research and development positions that progressively ranged from engineer to principal scientist. His engineering activities were computer design in the areas of phased array antennas, missile, torpedo guidance, radars and sonars systems.


His academic career started in 1974 when he joined the California State Polytechnic University. Since then, he has been a faculty member in numerous universities around the world including  the University of Petroleum and Minerals in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, the Algerian National Institute of Electrical Engineering (INELEC), the Florida Institute of Technology, the Florida Atlantic University, the Boston University, the University of Heidelberg, the University of LaVerne (California) Athens campus, the Greek National University of Ioannina, the Texas A&M International University, and the Instituto Tamaulipeco de Investigacion Educativa y Desarrollo de la Docencia of Victoria, Mexico.


Dr. Kostopoulos' professional interests are in Cyber Education and in the Internet technologies, while his academic interest is in International Education.