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Wireless Web Grows at VCU

A single transmitter can handle an average of 10 users simultaneously, Fajohn says, and some can handle 30. Each costs about $1,000 to install and has a range of about 150 feet.

Easy access may create security problems, however. VCU is a large urban university, and administrators acknowledge it would be tough to ensure that only students, faculty and staff use the wireless transmitters.

So far, the only security measure taken has been to isolate the wireless network from the campus's main network, says Bill Jones, director of VCUnet data network and telecommunications. Thus, a wireless user can only access the Internet and public areas of the school's network.

The technology for wireless security is still new, Jones points out. "We do hope to have it set so you have to log in [to the network], but we don't have it yet," he says. For now, he says he's not overly concerned if a few non-VCU people use the wireless access.

Transmitters are being installed near Shafer Court, allowing students to use them outside, as well as in two libraries. By the fall, Jones says, there will be a total of 12 on the university's two campuses. It's hard to guess how many students might use them at first, he says, but he expects the popularity of wireless access to take off in the next two years as laptop prices fall.

The new transmitters are only part of the university's access system, Fajohn emphasizes. "The main thing to keep in mind with wireless is it's a relatively new technology," he says. "It's not widely in use at the moment."

Other Richmond universities have already begun making the switch.

Virginia Union University, which has 1,600 students, has been entirely wireless for almost a year, says Kristin Boyd, assistant to the director of communications at VUU. A password system provides security. And for the first time, freshmen arriving in September will be required to bring their own laptops, she says.

The 3,400-student University of Richmond has installed transmitters in some libraries and academic buildings, says Brian Eckert, director of media and public relations. A password is required to access the university's network, Eckert says, but technicians are working to make the system more secure. "We're expanding in that area," he says, "but with every due precaution that we can take."

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