THE SANTO Tomas e-Service Providers (Steps) is set to embark on its biggest project to date – establishing the nearly high-speed wireless Internet connection in UST through Wireless Fidelity (WiFi).

WiFi provides wireless transmission of data through radio signals sent by a hotspot or access point, which is connected to a wired network. This will augment UST’s existing cyberspace connection and compensate for the fluctuation in cable and wire connections.

WiFi access has been approved for launching following a successful pilot testing at the Plaza Mayor in November 2006. The response from students was overwhelming, judging from the number of those who attended the demonstration, which prompted Steps to decide that the Thomasian community is WiFi-ready.

A year later, last November 9, Steps unveiled the service in front of students, faculty members, and administrations at the Plaza Mayor. Invited for the celebration are Fr. Rolando dela Rosa, the acting rector, Luichi Robles, country manager of Cisco Systems, and Mr. Hasan Fard, chief executive officer of Trends and Technologies Inc.

Ma. Beatriz Lacsamana, assistant director for network operations of Steps said wireless Internet can be accessed all throughout the University by students, faculty members, and administrators. The WiFi signal, confined within the University, has a radius ranging from 1,000 to 4,000 feet from the access points’ antennas, distributed all over the campus. For security reasons, the access points’ locations cannot be disclosed, although a lot of them may be seen around the campus.

Wireless Internet makes use of a protocol with a speed of 54 megabytes per second, the second fastest Internet speed available. But the University is on its way to acquiring the fastest protocol – tagged as the “N” stage with a speed of 300 megabytes per second. “We are currently in the so-called pre-N stage, wherein we test the capability of having nearly high-speed protocol for the wireless connection we are establishing,” Lacsamana said.

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With this speed, the signal’s coverage may even reach dormitories outside the University, she added.

“If the signal is strong enough, we may be able to extend the range of the signal to surrounding dormitories, since we cannot totally control the signal,” she said.

First in the Philippines

UST’s WiFi technology, provided by Cisco, is the first in the Philippines and in Asia to use wireless mesh, according to Mario Raagas, head of the Steps’ wireless Internet project. Wireless mesh, which is the same system used in Washington DC, will enable students to have uninterrupted Internet access as they transfer from one area of the university to another.

“As students traverse the campus while using the wireless Internet, they may go beyond the range of the access point of that area and go within the range of another access point. Once this occurs, the device will remain connected to the Internet,” Raagas said.

In Robles’ speech in the unveiling of the service, he said that one of the benefits of having WiFi in the University is having more accessibility in performing tasks within the campus.

“Through acquiring this service, mission critical applications can be performed across the network. Real time collaboration between students, faculty, and staff will also be possible,” he said.

Registration at the Steps office should be done first before anyone can use Wi-Fi so that the usernames and passwords may be given. Students are required to present an original copy of their registration form for the current semester as well as their digital ID. Faculty members and employees, meanwhile, are required to present their IDs upon registration. Guests may also register through presenting a request letter approved by the Steps director.

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According to Raagas, as of the moment, users will have to go to the Steps office to register. Online registration for the service will be available by summer.

To access the Internet via WiFi, gadgets such as laptops, cellular phones, and Palm pilots must be WiFi-equipped. Gadgets with WiFi cards that receive radio signals transmitted by a hotspot.

Once the connection is established and the device is configured, a message will appear at the system tray, which will initiate the activation of their connection, when clicked. Students will have to enter the usernames and passwords given to them upon registration at the Steps office in the activation. Failure to register until December 15, 2007 will lead to the inactivation of the account.

Lacsamana said the students’ username and password, which is exclusive to the WiFi device where it was registered, also serves as a safety measure.

“We need to tie up the device to a username and password to prevent cunning individuals from hacking or spreading viruses in the network,” she said.

For added security, Lacsamana recommends changing passwords regularly during the semester. Users will be contained within a virtual local area network to ward off hackers and viruses, she added.

“The wireless local area network will be confined in only one segment of the network so that once a computer contracts a virus, it will not spread to other computers,” she said.

According to Raymond Mendoza, network engineer of Steps, the same mechanism is being applied to block restricted sites, such as pornographic sites and media-sharing sites. Steps is in the process of adding more protective measures to the system for improved security, he said.

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A central network management system, which enables Steps to track the activities and location of a WiFi-equipped device within the University, was also installed, Lacsamana said.

Also, wireless Internet users in the University are grouped according to access privileges in the network.

“These groups have their own unique way of accessing the network. Students only have access to the Internet, while secured access is given to faculty members and administrators, which enables them to access Internet applications, such as those that concern registration and finances,” Raagas said.

Wireless education

Before Steps launches WiFi in the University this November, officials plan to educate Thomasians on how wireless internet should be utilized. Mendoza said that they are considering conducting training sessions for students on how to configure their laptops to access WiFi services.

Instructions on how to configure devices such as laptops, personal desktop assistants, and Sony Playstation portables can be downloaded from the UST website, Raagas said.

Although policies for WiFi use are subject for approval, the service will be available for free for 200 hours per semester. Once the free 200 hours have been consumed, the service will be locked from the user. Excess Internet hours, monitored by the central network management system, will be charged 20 pesos per hour upon reactivation in the Steps office, Lacsamana said.

According to Lacsamana and Mendoza, the installation of wireless Internet in the University will provide convenience, mobility, and more accessibility.

“The University can only offer limited Internet access. The computer laboratories are already being used for computer classes while the library can only offer computer usage for a limited period. With WiFi, students can use the Internet anywhere within the University using their gadgets,” Mendoza said.


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