Thanks to a new University pilot program, students in Berkeley and Calhoun colleges now have wireless Ethernet access.

A pilot test of the service by Information Technology Services, which allows Berkeley and Calhoun students with laptops and special hardware to access the Yale network and the Internet from nearly anywhere in their colleges outside of their rooms, started during the first week of February and will continue throughout the upcoming fall semester. The test is the first stage in an ambitious plan to offer wireless Ethernet access throughout campus.

Wireless Ethernet performance is comparable to the average wired connection as long as one stays within range of an access point, which transmits low frequency radio waves to antennae in laptop interface cards. ITS hopes to establish access points throughout Yale’s campus but needs to determine where students and faculty will make the most use of the wireless service and how many access points to set up, said David Davies, ITS’ manager of student computing and student services .

So far, ITS has set up access points in Berkeley and Calhoun and is nearly finished setting up points in Cross Campus Library, Sterling Memorial Library and Machine City.

Wireless service in the two colleges extends to the main dining halls, courtyards, computer rooms, libraries, multipurpose rooms and exercise rooms, as well as the laundry and reading rooms in Berkeley. The service does not extend to dorm rooms, however, because each already contains ample Ethernet jacks and it would be costlier to provide wireless service there too, said Joseph Paolillo, ITS’ director of data network operations.

“Wireless service in dorm rooms would not be as good as wired service there because the cinder blocks and cement would break up the connection,” Paolillo said. “But the feedback we have received about the service in the colleges has been very good, except for a couple of problems which the computer assistants took care of. We are monitoring the usage at access points and it seems that students are enjoying the service.”

ITS will finish installing access points in Watson Hall, CCL, Sterling Memorial Library and Machine City after spring break. Immediately after, ITS will begin setting up wireless service for Becton Engineering and Applied Science Center library, Davies Auditorium, the Mason Laboratory seminar room, the Dunham Laboratory front lawn and the Cross Campus lawn. This will likely be done by the fall semester so long as the positive feedback continues, Paolillo said.

“Wireless will be very important for the University, especially for students and faculty who are mobile,” Paolillo said. “Although this will be extremely helpful and useful to Yale, it is not intended to replace wired service.”

“Part of running this pilot is seeing what kind of student feedback we get,” Davies said. “We want to see how well the service works and how much people are going to use it. We’ve gotten some informal responses but we will be conducting surveys and soliciting more data in a few weeks.”

ITS offered to loan out 300 wireless Ethernet cards along with the installation software to faculty and students in Berkeley in Calhoun. Thus far, 85 students in the two colleges are participating in the test.

“I’ve been using the wireless service quite regularly over the last week,” Calhoun sophomore Hansel Tookes said. “I hope ITS makes it available all over campus because I’m sure a lot of other students would love to use it too, like in CCL, Commons and other popular places.”

The pilot test is being paid for with a donation from Norman Selby and Melissa Vail, two members of the Class of 1974 who wanted to give back to Yale by providing a new service to students. When they heard about ITS’ plans to bring wireless service to students they decided it would provide the perfect way to give back to their alma mater, said ITS Director Philip Long.

Wireless ethernet hardware has been available for several years but only recently has become more affordable, with wireless interface cards priced at roughly $100.