Imagine having the ability to surf the web, e-mail friends or do research while enjoying the outdoors. This became a reality for students at Western Michigan University last week as the school unveiled a campus-wide wireless computing system. Western is the first higher education institution in the state to install a campus-wide system.

The University of Michigan does not have a campus-wide system, but several schools within the University are equipped with wireless capabilities.

The Engineering and Business schools and the School of Information have wireless systems installed, and several other University buildings are following their lead. Harlan Hatcher Graduate Library, Shapiro Undergraduate Library, the Michigan Union, Pierpont Commons and the Michigan League are expected to install wireless computing this spring.

But University of Michigan officials have no future plans for installation of campus-wide wireless computing.

“This is not a central initiative,” said Andy Palms, director of Information Technology Communications.

Palms said it is up to each school or college on campus to decide whether to spend its funds on the installation.

The University is working on other projects to improve its technological systems.

Students can expect better and faster Internet connections in the near future with speeds expected to become four times greater than current levels.

“Our campus backbone data network is very cutting-edge,” said Palms. “There isn”t a better network in the country than what we”ve got.”

The initiative at Western was created to convenience both students and faculty at the university.

“If the entire campus were wireless, students would have access to the technology any time, any place,” said Viji Murali, vice president of information technology at Western.

Wireless systems allow Western students to bring laptops or handheld computers anywhere without worrying about finding proper wires or plug-ins. The only cost to students is purchasing a card to access the wireless system.

“Students absolutely love it. They use it for e-mail, surfing the web. They talk to their professors,” Murali said. “On a beautiful sunny day they are outside using their laptops.”

Murali noted that it would have cost Western Michigan seven to 10 times more to individually wire each building than it did to install the wireless system.

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