Volume 13, Number 11 February 3, 2006

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Wireless use booming & service upgrade planned

By Simone Knapp

Use of wireless computing is booming on campus, so Information Technology Services (ITS) is taking steps to expand the system’s capacity and security.

“Use of the campus wireless network service has increased almost 15-fold in its first three years of operation – and in response to this increasing demand we will introduce some important service changes on Feb. 13-14,” ITS Director Ed Pokraka says.

Pokraka says in January 2003 there were 134 people using the University’s wireless network service. “Today, we have 2,000 users, mostly students. Wireless network access is now available in over 120 locations and 25 buildings on campus, and more access points are being installed.”

“Mobile computing is now a reality at the U of S,” says Rick Bunt, Associate Vice-President for Information and Communications Technology.   And Bunt expects the demand for wireless access to increase even more dramatically, since the number of laptops purchased by students and others is growing.  In the summer of 2005, for example, laptop purchases by students outnumbered desktop computer purchases at the Campus Computer Store by a factor of six-to-one.  Instructors and staff are also increasingly using laptop computers.

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Virtually all laptop computers are now sold with the capability to connect to a wireless network.  ITS knows that students and others are increasingly bringing their laptop computers to campus with the expectation that they will be able to connect to the network. In the past 12 months, the ITS Help Desk configured almost 1,500 laptop computers for students to access the campus wireless network.

Pokraka says the upgraded wireless service will support a wider variety of laptop computers without the need for additional equipment.  Up to now many laptop owners had to purchase an additional network access card, costing about $100, to access the campus wireless network.

“Since most of the people who use the wireless network are students, the support for a wider variety of laptops will improve their experience at the University and will also make it easier for instructors, visiting scholars and others to use the campus wireless service,” the ITS director says.

The wireless network upgrade includes measures to reduce the risk that an infected laptop will infect other laptops, office computers and servers across campus or anywhere on the Internet. These new measures will prevent laptops from connecting to the wireless network unless they have anti-virus software and the latest security updates.

Laptop computers that do not meet the criteria will be directed to a website that will provide instructions on how to install the required security updates and if needed, Sophos anti-virus software. The University has licensed Sophos for student, instructor and staff use on campus and on their home computers.

Pokraka says that by ensuring that laptop computers have the critical security updates and anti-virus software, the University reduces – but does not eliminate – its risk of damage caused by computer viruses, such as loss or theft of data and time spent on repairs.  “A more secure computing environment means that faculty, staff and students can spend more time on teaching, research, learning and other activities rather than waiting for their computers to be fixed,” he says.

To implement these service improvements, ITS has had to change the procedure used to access the campus wireless network. Users of the wireless network will have to reconfigure their computers to use the new procedure. Wireless network users have been provided with detailed information in order to help with this transition, and instructions are also available at http://clean-access.usask.ca.  Assistance in making this change is also available from local IT support staff and the ITS Help Desk.

Information about the wireless network is available at http://wireless.usask.ca.


Simone Knapp is Communications Officer in the Information Technology Services Division.


For more information, contact communications.office@usask.ca


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