Sunday, April 22, 2007

University campus gets WiFi

I love a photo op like this. You get to see a whole lot of important people squeezing into as little space as possible. This article concerns a local Malaysian university getting it's whole campus WiFi-ed. The university will install 37 wireless access points all over campus so that students can get access to the Internet.

Well, personally, I don't think that this kind of activity deserves news coverage. On campus WiFi is sort of a given these days. However, I guess that it's probably the first Malaysian university to set it up campus wide. So, they need to have this publicity to show that they are first at doing things even though they are one of the youngest Malaysian universities.

As I understand it, all the student accommodations are already equipped with plenty of ethernet ports. Each student has an individual network port in their own room. This means that the students are already wired up. Of course, the network isn't good for much else other than trading files and playing games. All the labs are also totally wired up. Each lab in the university had cost them several million to build and equip.

The problem with the network in this university isn't that the students do not have network access. It's the Internet access that's a problem. The main pipe to the university isn't sufficiently quick to service the 6000 students that are on campus. So, the students spend most of their time waiting for web pages to load. It doesn't help that the staff have their own separate bandwidth available. So, a lot of the staff are oblivious to the kind of nightmare that students have to go through in order to get Internet access. Plus the fact that the external firewall always seems to crash (as it runs on some silly Windows server) just makes it worse.

You may think that this deployment would allow students to use their computer in the library. However, each desk in the library is also already equipped with the requisite network port. They just need to jack their computers into the port. Then, you may think that this would allow the students to sit on the grass and do their work. Daylight temperatures on campus easily hit 40C as this university is located near former tin mines that are nothing but desert sands today. So, nobody is going to sit outside unless they have a reason to.

The only places that will benefit from having WiFi would be the cafeteria, mosque and lecture halls. The cafeteria is often used as the meeting place for group discussions. I can see how this could be disruptive in lecture halls if students can gain access to the local IRC server to chat during class. Also, I have no idea what the mosque would use this WiFi for. They already have loud speakers for their broadcasts.

So, my final verdict is that this is purely a publicity stunt. There isn't any real use for this WiFi deployment as it doesn't really benefit anyone. The thing that they should do is actually increase the available Internet bandwidth to the university. I know that the university is located in the middle of nowhere and it's difficult to pull a line in, but they have the money. If put to proper use, they can easily lay their own communications infrastructure for high speed access.

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