By Laura Acuff, Opinion Editor
3G has come to ACU with the AT&T installation of four 3G towers around campus, accelerating the initial plan to
equip the city of Abilene with 3G capability sometime in 2009. These towers support the recently launched mobile learning initiative because 3G technologies enable operators to offer users a wider range of more advanced mobile phone services including a faster wireless connection.
“We’re about a year-and-a-half ahead of the rest of Abilene,” said Kevin Roberts, Chief Information Officer and director of re-engineering. “So it was kind of just a gesture of goodwill on the part of AT&T to say, ‘Hey, you know what? We appreciate all you’re doing. We will bring these towers up as 3G. We’ll blanket your campus with 3G as well.’”
Of the four 3G towers, two are stationed on top of ACU buildings, and two are located off, but near, campus.
“We work really hard for those towers not to be obvious,” Roberts said. “Aesthetically, we want to make sure they fit in and you don’t even really notice they’re there.”
AT&T installed the towers at no cost to ACU, and the university even collects some slight rent by allowing the towers on campus, Roberts said.
Previous to 3G networks, 2G, or EDGE, networks covered all of Abilene, and all cellular devices, including iPhones, can still connect to this older network.
“You’re going to be fine because basically what they did was add the 3G on top of the existing EDGE networks,” said Arthur Brant, network administrator. “With the new iPhones, you can turn off 3G, and it will run on the standard EDGE network, on the second generation network.”
Roberts recommends that students turn off 3G to utilize EDGE.
“On campus, the wireless is always going to be a little bit faster,” Roberts said. “One thing, though too, that we’re telling the students as well: 3G, it is really fast, but it also just flat drinks your battery, whether you’re searching the Internet or not.”
Brant said the advantages of 3G are an increase in speed for data connections.
The 3G towers enable a small radius off campus to maintain 3G capability and give 3G compatible device users greater security in knowing that if the Wi-Fi failed, their devices could default to 3G without losing coverage, Roberts said.
Wireless Internet and the cellular network are two separate entities, and the addition of 3G networks may not lend speed to ACU wireless Internet, especially since iPhones are programmed to default to Wi-Fi. The iPod touch uses Wi-Fi exclusively.
Even if many iPhone users defaulted to 3G, the difference in speed would be negligible due to ACU’s relatively small pool of participants. Additionally, the downside to using 3G networks exclusively might outweigh the benefits, Roberts said.
“I haven’t experienced [issues with 3G stability], but there’s a lot of [Internet chatter], when you read out on the blogs, of the 3G being not as stable, just dropping calls and things like that,” Roberts said. “Again, we’ve not had complaints about that; we’ve not experienced that here, but you don’t hear those complaints at all about the EDGE network. It’s an older, more stable network.”
Because the iPhones and iPod touches would be accessing the Internet, ACU has taken, and continues to take, measures to ensure the Wi-Fi is prepared to handle the extra traffic.
“We spent a lot of time this summer revamping all of our wireless,” Roberts said. “We had to rethink and retool our entire wireless network, and part of that was, I guess, heightened because of these devices.”
Despite the addition of iPhones, the wireless network was in need of an update. Although wireless was available throughout campus, its capability to support multiple users necessitated a boost, Roberts said.
“The reality is, regardless of whether we gave the iPhones out or not, everybody’s bringing laptops now; people have other smart phones,” he said. “It was the need to have deeper wireless access that was really important.”
Starting with high traffic areas like the Campus Center and the Brown Library, ACU increased Wi-Fi capabilities this summer.
Adding 300 wireless network access points, ACU is doing its best to supply wireless for the 600 iPhones and iPod touches issued this semester and the 98 percent student population that is already arriving at ACU with some type of cellular phone, Brant said.
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