Though many of Yale’s common areas have long offered varying degrees of wireless Internet access, new technology may soon allow students to surf the Web from just about anywhere on campus.

The University is testing a new centralized wireless pilot program in Swing Space this year. The technology, purchased from Aruba Networks, links 60 wireless access points in the dormitory through a central hub, which Yale Network Services Director Joe Paolillo said allows network officials to balance wireless coverage more efficiently than in the old wireless system. The previous system, purchased from Cisco Systems, used about 450 wireless nodes across campus that have to be individually adjusted.

The new wireless initiative was a response to both an increase in student demand and a decrease in hardware prices. Paolillo said each access point costs about $450 today, compared to about $1,000 four years ago. Information and Technology Services opted to start the program in Swing Space because the relatively modern architecture is more conducive to wireless installation than the older stone buildings that dominate the campus.

“We’ve been getting, while not big demand, some questions about wireless for student rooms, and we decided that Swing would be a good first place to try that,” he said.

Each of Yale’s 12 residential colleges already has independent wireless nodes that provide limited access in some college common rooms, libraries and other spaces. Student rooms were not targeted in those earlier plans, Paolillo said, because the decentralized networks of access points would have been too difficult to maintain individually.

The new technology’s relative ease of use may be checked by a lack of feasibility for installation of new wireless nodes. The thick walls and intricate architecture of the residential colleges can significantly inhibit wireless transmissions without a “dense deployment” of access points, said Charles Powell, Yale’s director of academic media and technology.

“Yale’s residential colleges are wonderful places, but they are sturdy old buildings that tend to offer challenges for wireless deployment,” Powell said. “We’re committed over time to deploying wireless around Yale so that it would be completely ubiquitous, but it is not a one-year operation.”

Yale ITS officials have been evaluating the new hardware since February, and Paolillo said he is optimistic that centralized control over the new wireless network will ultimately allow the University to provide wireless access at any point on campus. Aruba, the wireless manufacturer, has already helped establish similar networks at Dartmouth College, Emory University and approximately 50 other higher-education institutions, Aruba spokesman David Callisch said.

Powell said he is pleased with the preliminary evaluations of Aruba’s hardware service, but he said Yale is not wedded to the company’s technology.

“I don’t know that the deal is exclusive or that it’s a 200-year marriage,” Powell said. “We’re a technology business, so in some sense we’re constantly evaluating our relationships with all our vendors.”

Powell said his concerns about the new hardware include support for intensive usage, security and speed compared to the service provided by a wired connection.

Beyond the sphere of undergraduate housing, Paolillo said similar pilot programs are being deployed in the Law School, the School of Management, the School of Medicine’s Harkness Dormitory and the Kline Geology Laboratory. If these and the Swing Space program prove successful and popular among students, he said, a plan for further wireless expansion will be developed in concert with the University’s residential college renovation projects during the following year.

[ydn-legacy-photo-inline id=”15917″ ]