Campus Connectivity: No Wires

College has always represented a degree of independence — free from parents, free from the constraints of childhood, and sometimes free from the “real world” of work, but U.S. campuses are also increasingly representing independence from wires, with mobile phones and notebook computers becoming as popular and prevalent as books and beer.

Major wireless carriers, hardware and software makers are all courting college campuses, working to deliver voice coverage and WiFi 802.11 to students and faculty, who are in turn becoming more reliant on handhelds and laptops, and being connected anywhere while at school.

“These guys — kids on college campuses — actually are mobile, and have access to computers; it’s almost a requirement” IDC wireless infrastructure analyst Shiv Bakhshi told TechNewsWorld. “I think the college campus is exactly the right place for mobile computing and wireless. These [students] are much more connected, much more innovative. The professor used to hang something on the door. Now, he writes an e-mail.”

Syllabus Sans Wires

Wireless and mobile technology is prevalent on all the the major college campuses that Microsoft deals with in major accounts, whether in limited locations or across entire campuses, the software giant’s solutions specialist, Bill Hagen, told TechNewsWorld.

What are students doing with all of that wireless? Hagen said mobile phones and notebooks are now the place to store and consult course schedules, the campus directory, news, maps, videos, streaming, grades, course information and more.

According to Hagen, there is particularly heavy wireless use in schools of nursing, business and engineering for various applications in those fields. Wireless technology is also being put to work by campus police, he noted, and is used in RFID bar code scanners for retail sales, buses and other applications.

Mobile Ops More Likely

Hagen, who reported that wireless carriers are participating in the rush to school by offering students special plans, said that Microsoft is looking to leverage wireless technology with partners such as Action Engine, among providers that allow students to connect to campus information and the Internet via their wireless phones.

Hagen said it is too soon to tell whether wider-coverage WiMax wireless technology will catch on with coeds, but he indicated that wireless carriers and mobile phones are an easier application of wireless at universities.

“Right now, I keep hearing that mobile operator networks is the route since the student pays for the connection and it goes anywhere,” he said. “There’s no infrastructure cost for the university.”

Graduates to Wireless

IDC’s Bakhshi stressed the college campus as the ideal environment for mobile and wireless technology, since users are mobile and are more likely to be connected in the figurative sense.

“College is changing, so it makes perfect sense that you have the processing of information and its transportation wirelessly,” he said. “It makes more sense than anywhere else.”

Bakhshi added that as bandwidth increases for all of the different wireless options — mobile phones, WiFi, WiMax — various players, including cable companies, will offer more services aimed at students.

“It will be a very competitive market,” he said, adding, “over time, voice over WiFi will take over.”

Wiring Down, Waking Up

Ovum Vice President of wireless telecoms Roger Entner told TechNewsWorld wireless technology makes sense for the average college students, who are more and more opting for mobile phones as opposed to landlines.

Entner also said mobile phones and laptops — continuing to gain in popularity on college campuses and increasingly the focus of carriers, companies such as Microsoft and Apple, online music services and others — also fit the college lifestyle.

“If the bar is your living room, why have a wired line?” he said, adding that wireless carriers are “waking up” to their collegiate opportunities.

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