Wireless Infrastructure

05:22 PM
Lee Badman
Lee Badman
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Of Cars, Classrooms, and Bad Ideas

The benefits brought by wireless technologies are varied and many, but there are issues of concern for different groups of people at every step of the way. Usually the advantages gained by wireless systems of varying types outweigh the concerns, but those concerns don't simply go away because the majority is happy with their new-found connectivity. Each generation of technology helps to shape the world around us, and it's a natural step to want to use more technology to fight off the undesirabl

The benefits brought by wireless technologies are varied and many, but there are issues of concern for different groups of people at every step of the way.  Usually the advantages gained by wireless systems of varying types outweigh the concerns, but those concerns don't simply go away because the majority is happy with their new-found connectivity. Each generation of technology helps to shape the world around us, and it's a natural step to want to use more technology to fight off the undesirable effects that come along with the benefits. But too often, fighting technology with technology is not only ineffective, it can amount to expensive overkill when compared to procedural solutions.

Let's talk about Ray LaHood, the current US Secretary of Transportation. I don't envy Secretary LaHood for having to answer for the somber statistics regarding accidents caused by distracted drivers. There are more vehicles on the road than ever, and in those vehicles are a staggering variety of entertainment and navigation systems, mobile phones, and old-school communications like CB and two-way radio.  Many states have laws against distracted driving, but they tend to focus on mobile phone use and lean towards the "hands free makes everything good" mode of thought.  Now, there are rumblings in Washington about working towards solutions that render mobile phones useless in vehicles. Secretary LaHood has been quoted often of late, speaking in favor of such denial of service technologies.

As a subscriber to a higher education discussion forum on wireless issues on campuses, I recently took part in a spirited thread about faculty members wanting wireless network admins to provide a "kill switch" for classroom wireless.  Some instructors invariably don't feel that they can compete with the Internet, and so somewhat understandably would like to be able to make the WLAN go way during their lectures. I have been asked about similar capabilities for churches, movie theaters, and even residences (like when the baby sitter is in the house) as a wireless consultant.

It seems to me that Secretary LaHood's concerns are quite similar to those of many higher ed faculty members, albeit the motivation to reduce traffic fatalities is not quite analogous to worrying about students using Facebook during class time. But the essence of each case is similar enough to warrant attention.  Where LaHood wants in-vehicle jammers, role-based restrictions, or alternative DoS methods, the professors want the same in classrooms. And though at first blush both ideas seem worthy of consideration (forgetting for a moment that the FCC really doesn't dig the use of jammer-type equipment), the realities associated with each make them non-starters while exposing other issues.

Back to the classroom- the arguments against restricting wireless use in college lecture halls are many. To name a few:  remove Wi-Fi and you still have mobile wireless. Remove both of these, and faculty members still compete with magazines, books, and doodling. It's hard to surgically remove just enough signal from a dense environment to achieve the desired result without impacting adjacent areas.  Mucking with user accounts in all cases is an administrative nightmare. And the list goes on. The complexity to control the classroom wireless as envisioned by peeved instructors just isn't cost effective (or realistically possible) when other distractions remain.

Lee is a Network Engineer and Wireless Technical Lead for a large private university. He also teaches classes on networking, wireless network administrtaion, and wireless security. Lee's technical background includes 10 years in the US Air Force as an Electronc Warfare ... View Full Bio
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