Education Network Seeks to Become Nations Largest Wi-Fi Hot Spot

By Carol Ellison  |  Posted 2005-04-15 Print this article Print

A coalition of educational management organizations and wireless technology companies are working to turn U.S. schools into a giant coast-to-coast wireless computing hot spot.

Before it was the World Wide Web, the Internet started life as DARPAnet, a nationwide computer network that connected U.S. government with the nations leading research universities. Although students and faculty members at virtually all universities and many school systems routinely access the Internet through their local networks today, gaining access from remote campuses is difficult.
Thats about to change through an initiative called Education First, a cooperative effort of two educational management organizations, based in Minnesota, and two Massachusetts-based wireless technology companies working to turn the entire educational community into one giant coast-to-coast hot spot.
According to Jo Boettcher, chief operating officer of the Broadband Alliance, one of the sponsoring educational organizations, the effort is the latest development in the fast-moving trend toward convergence on the nations campuses. Boettcher noted that the educational community has made a "huge investment in footprint. Now were looking at the next way of applying that technology." "We saw the trend in wireless communications," said Boettcher. Education First, she said, "allows a virtual network so educators can share information as they have mobility. As we know, education is moving in that direction." Bluesocket and Airpath Wireless Inc., based in Massachusetts, will provide the security, authentication and back office management that handles the technical hand-off between students home campus networks and the networks from where they log in. Airpaths roaming agreements with iPass, Brick, Sprint, SBC and other providers with national and international hot-spot networks will also enable students and faculty members to log on via commercial hot-spots, as well as enable business persons to get back to their corporate networks when visiting member campuses. About 80 million American students attend some 7000 universities. If all sign on, Education First, combined with AirPaths corporate footprint, would compose the largest public hot-spot network in the world, according to Airpath CEO Todd Myers. Interuniversity connectivity is not new. Its been happening on many campuses—but not easily. "Some of the universities that have already deployed Wi-Fi have worked together to create peering arrangements with one another," said Myers. "Students change every semester, so managing credentials becomes an IT nightmare," he added, "especially if you were to have all these individual peering arrangements and have to constantly keep that up to date." Boettcher said she agreed. "In the university market, the peering relationship is a very taxing exercise," she said. "Education First allows some of that hindrance to go away." Looking for a hot spot? Click here to check out eWEEK.coms index of hot-spot finders. Participating institutions will join the Education First service through The National Joint Powers Alliance, a nonprofit nationwide purchasing clearinghouse for schools and universities. Education First will also offer the program to schools, kindergarten through grade 12, and will work to acquire Wi-Fi networks at reduced costs to those that dont have them. Next Page: Implementing solutions.

Carol Ellison is editor of's Mobile & Wireless Topic Center. She has authored whitepapers on wireless computing (two on network security–,Securing Wi-Fi Wireless Networks with Today's Technologies, Wi-Fi Protected Access: Strong, Standards-based Interoperable Security for Today's Wi-Fi Networks, and Wi-Fi Public Access: Enabling the future with public wireless networks.

Ms. Ellison served in senior and executive editorial positions for Ziff Davis Media and CMP Media. As an executive editor at Ziff Davis Media, she launched the networking track of The IT Insider Series, a newsletter/conference/Web site offering targeted to chief information officers and corporate directors of information technology. As senior editor at CMP Media's VARBusiness, she launched the Web site, VARBusiness University, an online professional resource center for value-added resellers of information technology.

Ms. Ellison has chaired numerous industry panels and has been quoted as a networking and educational technology expert in The New York Times, Newsday, The Los Angeles Times and The Wall Street Journal, National Public Radio's All Things Considered, CNN Headline News, WNBC and CNN/FN, as well as local and regional Comcast and Cablevision reports. Her articles have appeared in most major hi-tech publications and numerous newspapers and magazines, including The Washington Post and The Christian Science Monitor.

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