A Quest for Bandwidth

Tall columns and marble stairs. Stately, ivy-covered stone buildings. This type of period architecture adds to a campuses’ beauty and sense of history. However, older structures also constitute an obstacle: lack of wiring to support broadband connections, which can deliver such vital applications as:

- high-speed Internet and LAN access,

- distance learning,

- multimedia and video access, and

- rapid access to both research and study materials.

Theoretically, administrators could rewire their old buildings with cable or fiber that inherently supports broadband connections. However, installing new wiring into aging, solid structures is hugely disruptive and enormously expensive.

Fortunately, a new technology solves this dilemma. Called Long-Reach Ethernet (LRE), this technology delivers high bandwidth across the unconditioned telephone-grade wire that already exists in practically all buildings. As a result, administrators can provide the robust broadband required by students, faculty and staff into residence halls, classrooms and offices -- affordably.

LRE Comes to Portland State

With numerous aging buildings, officials at Portland State University in Oregon faced exactly such a situation. In short, they needed to bring broadband capabilities quickly and cost-effectively into their residence halls.

“A lot of educational material resides on the Internet, and many professors use Web-based instruction,” says Jon Snyder, network engineer for Portland State. “So, it’s important that our students get the broadband access they need.”

These residence halls, however, were old. Built in the early 1900s, they were threaded only with telephone-grade copper wire that ordinarily could not support true broadband. In addition, they were built solidly from brick and stone, which meant that they could not be rewired easily or affordably for high-bandwidth connections.

“It would have been extremely expensive to rewire those buildings,” says Snyder. “Those buildings were built solidly, with no pathways to lay new wire.”

As a result, Portland State students residing in the older residence halls were restricted mostly to slow dial-up connections, which peak at 56 kbps. These links were good for little more than sending simple e-mails. Access was cumbersome, downloads were slow and students suffered from limited access to vital information.

So, Snyder set out to find an affordable broadband technology for these residents. He researched a variety of options. For instance, a Home Phoneline Networking Alliance (HPNA) technology was considered, but found to be limited in performance and scalability. He also considered wireless technology. Wireless can be a fantastic choice in many college settings, especially those that require campuswide mobility. However, for the residence hall environment, he preferred a wired technology that would provide dedicated bandwidth.

As he explored his options, Snyder discovered that LRE fit his exact needs. This innovative technology combines Ethernet with Very High Data Rate DSL (VDSL) to deliver high bandwidth across existing copper telephone wire. After running a successful pilot, Portland State administrators deployed LRE into nine residence halls.

Today, resident students are armed with tremendous levels of bandwidth, which significantly aids their education, promotes their interests and speeds their communications. With access to broadband, they can download enormous multimedia files quickly, view streaming media and have unfettered access to the Internet and campus local area network (LAN).

Overcoming Limitations

As mentioned above, Snyder scrutinized several different technologies in his quest to bring broadband into Portland State’s older residence halls. Ultimately, though, the university selected LRE for a host of reasons.

- Affordability -- With LRE, Portland State administrators did not have to rewire their older buildings with higher-grade cabling to deliver broadband to students, saving both money and deployment time.

- Co-existence with the phone system -- LRE co-exists with Plain Old Telephone Service (POTS). So, the university’s voice service is able to live side by side with the new, high-speed data service.

- Easy scalability -- Portland State administrators are able to easily hook up users to LRE. This is vital in a setting where students frequently change residence hall rooms.

- Performance -- LRE delivers bandwidth of 5 mbps to 15 mbps in full duplex across distances up to 5,000 ft. Because Portland State’s copper runs are short, students enjoy incredibly fast 15-mbps downloads. This bandwidth is enough to drive the most demanding applications, giving students full, immediate access to all network and Internet information.

LRE for Higher Education

For college and university officials, a typical LRE deployment consists of several key pieces of technology. These elements include the following.

LRE Hardware -- LRE relies on just a few major devices, including the LRE switch, the POTS Splitter and the LRE customer premise equipment. The Cisco Catalyst 2900 LRE XL switch typically is located in a building basement or in a central location on campus. If the LRE signal will be delivered on the same wire carrying phone service, a POTS Splitter is required to interface into the phone wiring. In this way, LRE easily co-exists with a college’s existing voice system. To get the broadband connection, subscribers just need to plug into the LRE customer premise equipment. Administrators can dramatically increase the coverage of their broadband networks by adding wireless capabilities to the network via Cisco Aironet Wireless LAN products. These wireless devices allow students, faculty and staff to access and maintain high-bandwidth connections anywhere on campus.

BBSM Software -- The Cisco Building Broadband Services Manager (BBSM) delivers a complete software platform, providing everything needed to deliver high-bandwidth service. These capabilities include plug-and-play access, self-provisioning, authentication, tiered service levels and integrated billing. BBSM also lets providers offer variable levels of bandwidth so they can deliver differing types of service for different applications.

LRE Services -- Leading professional services companies and integrators install and service LRE. So, officials can be assured that all network design, configuration, installation and ongoing network management issues are handled efficiently and professionally.

Not all schools need the entire solution, as mentioned above. Portland State administrators, for instance, completed the LRE deployment itself. In addition, they already had a telecommunications management and billing method in place. So, they just rolled their LRE service into their existing telecommunications management system and service offerings. However, the complete LRE solution is available for institutions that require it.

Broadband Everywhere

More and more, students, faculty and staff are demanding high-speed Internet and LAN service. In fact, many applications now mandate the rapid delivery of multimedia content across the network. LRE offers a compelling solution. This technology allows the transmission of broadband via unconditioned, telephone-grade copper wire. In so doing, it gives colleges and universities an affordable way to deliver high bandwidth easily and cost effectively into old -- often historically significant -- buildings.

Stephen W. Nye is general manager of the Building Broadband Solutions Unit of Cisco Systems, Inc., San Jose, Calif.