Wireless FAQ

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UNL provides access to the internet via wireless network available in most buildings on campus as well as many outdoor common areas.

Wi-Fi

Wireless FAQ

Frequently Asked Questions About Wireless Networking

General

UNL's Wireless Network

Using UNL's Wireless Network

General

What is a wireless network?

A wireless computer network is a set of components that allows a computer to access UNL's computing network, and the Internet, without being connected to the building through a wire. The most popular reason for participating in a wireless network is because you own a portable notebook computer, and frequently use it from many locations on campus and connecting the notebook to a data jack is inconvenient or simply not possible.

When you are part of a wireless network, your computer communicates to one or more "wireless access points" installed in a building. As you move around, you may fall outside the range of these access points and disconnect from the network, or your computer may automatically switch from the access point currently in use to one that is now closer. It may help to compare the wireless network to experiences you may have had with cellular phones—their signals get weak as you get farther away from the cellular tower, and then get better if your phone switches to a different cellular site.

Assuming that you have a notebook computer and want to use the wireless network installed on campus,

  • you will have to purchase an appropriate wireless adapter card for your notebook,
  • register your wireless card with Information Technology Services, and
  • use your notebook in an area covered by the wireless network (each of these options will be discussed in a bit more detail in later items).

While it is possible to get a wireless card for a desktop personal computer, this option is generally not recommended for a variety of reasons (cost, speed, etc.).

Where are wireless networks best used?

A wireless computer network is designed to be used where mobility is valued above everything else (speed, functionality…). Typical uses would be in public access areas where people constantly come and go, library stacks (allowing people to roam the stacks while electronically searching for books), and possibly classrooms with low technology needs (i.e., casual electronic mail usage or Web browsing).

If your need or application requires a lot of network capacity (full motion video, for example), then a wired connection will generally be a better choice.

What is the range of a wireless network?

The range of the wireless network is greatly dependent upon the materials used to construct the building, and the furniture and equipment in the building. Typically, from any single wireless access point, a portable computer should be able to work up to 100ft from the access point, (200ft to 500ft is not uncommon in larger open areas). The range is usually much shorter when the access point and the user are not located on the same floor.

For a large building, this typically means that multiple access points will need to be installed within the building to provide a reasonable coverage.

Are there different types of wireless networks?

The computer and telephone industry uses the term "wireless network" pretty loosely, which can cause a great deal of confusion. Many times we have heard that a particular company is going to install a wireless network close to the campus to serve UNL, only to find out that what they are really doing is setting up a few cellular phone sites.

Various companies offer a "wireless" connection between a computer and their network that may work in every large city in the United States. Again, this is typically more like a cellular phone connection for your computer, and offers the greatest mobility across a very large area (the US), but at much lower speeds, and much higher costs. Many handheld computers have the capability of connecting into this type of wireless network.

The wireless network being deployed within UNL is a more traditional computing wireless network intended for short-range, high speed network connections within a building. It offers the best set of compromises between performance and mobility for common UNL activities.


UNL's Wireless Network

How can I tell where the wireless network is available on campus?

Information Technology Services has created a City Campus map and an East Campus map illustrating where a wireless computer connection is generally available.

What is the speed of UNL's wireless network?

The wireless network is comprised of 802.11b and 802.11g devices, which operate at raw data rates of 11 MB/sec and 54 MB/sec, respectively. PC Cards that are compatible with 802.11g equipment will also operate with 802.11b equipment, but only at the lower 802.11b speeds. It should be noted that actual throughput may be considerably lower due to distance from the radio (weaker signals are throttled back to lower speeds for reliability) and the number of other users connected to the same access point.

In summary, the speed of your wireless network connection is almost always good enough for common web and e-mail functions. Anything requiring a sustained high amount of network capacity may not work properly in all locations throughout the day.

Will a wireless network allow us to install less network cabling in a building?

Generally, no. Some departments have contacted Information Technology Services about not installing any copper network connections into newly remodeled areas, and relying upon wireless networking instead. The new or remodeled part of a building will probably be around for 100 years, and we feel that it may be short-sighted not to install the minimum recommended amount of copper data wiring into every room in the building.

For example, if in 5 years you want to change a conference room into a video production room, or a high-tech classroom, the cost of adding the needed wiring at that time may well exceed the cost of wiring a large portion of the building if it were done during the original construction.

Remember that a wireless computer network is a compromise between mobility and performance. If at anytime during the usage of the space in question you discover a new research or teaching method that requires a lot of network capacity, a reliance upon wireless connections would probably prevent this new endeavor from being successful without the addition of a wired network.

Will the wireless network work in every room and office on campus?

It is unlikely that every office in every building will be able to reliably use the wireless network. There are various design and cost issues that may prevent 100% coverage. Obviously, Information Technology Services will do everything possible to ensure that the wireless network extends to as much of the campus as possible.

Can departments install their own wireless networking equipment?

No. A wireless network will usually escape the confines of a building, and could easily interfere with other wireless users in other buildings or with other wireless networking components installed into the building by Information Technology Services. This would lead to very unreliable operation and tremendously increased support costs.

Some UNL departments have already attempted to install their own wireless networking equipment, and discovered that they totally disrupted the existing wired network within their buildings.

Generally, any wireless networking equipment found within a building that is not part of the campus-wide wireless network will be disconnected with little or no advance notice (depending upon if the equipment is currently causing harm or not).

Will wireless networking be installed into the student resident halls?

The Student Resident Hall network is managed and funded separately from the main campus network. Discussions are currently under way to see if extending this capability into the residence halls is going to occur or not, and if so, how far (into common areas, into individual room…).


Using UNL's Wireless Network

Will my Mac work on this network?

Macintosh laptops can use an internal wireless network adapter. Consult your Mac dealer or the UNL Computer shop for specific information. As long as the wireless adapter meets the 802.11b/g standard, it should work.

Is there a recommended wireless network card that should be used?

Information Technology Services recommends the use of a Cisco wireless card for the greatest compatibility with the existing Cisco access points, but any wireless adapter that supports the 802.11b/g standards should work. Consult the wireless availability maps (City Campus, East Campus) to determine the current coverage areas and speeds. As areas are added to the wireless network and as current access points are replaced, they will be provided with "802.11g" compliant equipment. Remember that 802.11g cards will not operate at full speed when connected to an 802.11b access point.

Please note that any statements regarding expected range, battery life, driver supports, and software updates may not apply if you are using a different wireless adapter card.

Does a wireless network adapter affect my notebook's battery life?

Yes. Wireless network cards are powered through the computer's PC Card slot, and use your computer's battery as the power source.

I can't connect to the wireless network. What's wrong?

You must register your card's ethernet address in order to access the wireless network. This helps to ensure network security and lets Information Technology Services know how to reach you with notifications or questions.

To request wireless network access as a visitor, contact the Information Technology Services Help Center at 402-472-3970 (or 866-472-3970).