UMass Dartmouth today became just the second campus in the nation to make long-range broadband wireless connectivity (known as WiMAX) available to its students, faculty and staff - In partnership with Northern Michigan University over Internet2. UMass Dartmouth will be equipping 350 students and faculty members with WiMAX technology to test and fine-tune the system over the spring semester with a goal of making UMass Dartmouth's WiMAX fully operational by the fall semester.
The system will provide high-speed wireless access for students, faculty and staff anywhere on campus and within two miles of the campus bell tower. It will eventually allow students to link to a Virtual Computer Lab (VCL) that will provide access to licensed software needed to perform every day tasks or possibly statistical analysis or graphic design. Ultimately, University officials expect to expand the system to satellite sites in New Bedford, Fall River, Fairhaven, and Cape Cod, and offer access to public safety and other government agencies in those communities.
The University is partnering with Northern Michigan University, the first campus in the nation to deploy WiMAX for its population. NMU received national attention for its WiMAX initiative when President Obama visited in February to announce his administration's National Wireless Initiative. NMU has been supporting UMass Dartmouth's efforts by providing expertise and access to its WiMAX core technology. This initiative is possible due to UMass Dartmouth's unique technology assets (FCC licensed broadband spectrum) that cover most of Southeastern Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Cape Cod. Making the campus fully wireless with a traditional Wi-Fi system could have cost $2 million, while leveraging the campus' broadband wireless spectrum licenses initially cost less than $100,000.
"UMass Dartmouth is proud to once again put innovation into action to empower students in their learning and faculty in their teaching and discovery,'' Chancellor Jean F. MacCormack said. "This system will serve students by keeping them connected to the people, knowledge and tools they need to learn, compete, and thrive on the digital planet. We are especially grateful for the support and encouragement we have received from our friends at Northern Michigan and the innovative spirit that our own technology team has brought to this exciting effort."
"Students will be able to access our network from their seats in class, at a Route 6 coffee shop, riding a campus van from their residence hall to the library, or during halftime of a Corsair football game,'' said Donna Massano, UMass Dartmouth's Chief Information Officer. "Faculty will remain connected as they transition from lecture hall to laboratory to their office. We will even be piloting access for our public safety officers when they are in their cruisers. "
UMass Dartmouth possesses long-standing FCC licenses to use the spectrum, which provides a regulated environment, free from interference by rogue systems and other competitors. WiMAX is more cost-effective than the traditional Wi-Fi because even a single base station - like the one the university has installed on its bell tower - can support thousands of users over a span of miles, depending on topography and building design.
"UMass Dartmouth controls frequencies over a vast geographical area, covering most of Rhode Island and Southeastern Massachusetts, including the Cape and islands," said Andrew Darling, Director of IT Infrastructure, "We are taking advantage of our unique position to connect people and ideas through technology."
The WiMAX initiative is part of a broader UMass Dartmouth/ Massachusetts/Rhode Island effort to improve broadband connectivity in Rhode Island and across Southeastern Massachusetts and Cape Cod.
The Ocean State Higher Education Economic Development and Administrative Network (OSHEAN) recently announced a $21.7 million federal stimulus grant to bring vastly increased broadband capacity to the community anchor institutions of Rhode Island and Bristol County, including UMass Dartmouth satellite sites. Plans are also underway to expand the network east to the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) in Woods Hole and north to the Taunton Municipal Lighting Plant (TMLP.)