UAE university deploys invisible optical wireless network

Emirates Computers deploys Cisco and LightPointe solutions to connect UAE university campuses

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By  Paul Barthram Published  June 29, 2003

I - Introduction|~||~||~|Emirates Computers has deployed Cisco and LightPointe solutions to connect UAE university campuses to the University's network.

Faced with the challenge of extending its network capacity to its student dormitories, the UAE University decided to take a different approach when it came to looking at Ethernet connection methods, and true wireless connectivity.

For a process which in the wrong hands could have proved a costly and complex deployment, the university decided upon Emirates Computers to provide them with a complete solution of Free Space Optics from LightPointe, providing the passive network layer and Cisco’s Aironet wireless, Catalyst switches, and Long Reach Ethernet (LRE) solutions.

The finished implementation covers 250 access points, around 60 buildings on nine campuses, servicing up to 10,000 students 24 hours a day.

So was it a cut and dry choice when it came to choosing the technology, and partners involved? Ahmed Yasser Jamal, network administrator, dorms & wireless for the UAE University, explained how the decision was made. “As a governmental sector, we can’t go directly to vendors and say we need your product. So we had to issue a tender, which everyone could bid on and then we assessed what they had to offer,” said Jamal.

Winning the tender and much praise from the university was Emirates Computers. Bilal Adnan Ashraq, network consultant for the company said it was more than just a case of good relationships when it came to winning the contract. “We’ve had past experience with the UAE University. Almost something like ten years together now. The key however with winning the contract was we could integrate multiple technologies from multiple vendors such as Cisco Systems and LightPointe,” Ashraq explained.

Jamal explained the set up. “It is a complete solution with a wired part and a wireless part. There is a wireless part with the Cisco Wireless Aironet 350 series Access Points — this is for indoor—and for the outdoor we have wide area network (WAN) connectivity using the Cisco Aironet 350 Wireless Bridge and for the wired backbone we have Cisco’s 2900 series switches and also the Long Reach Ethernet Catalyst 2950 switches, and of course there’s LightPointe Free Space Optics, which we are using for WAN connectivity.”
||**||II - Technology|~||~||~|
The adoption of the technology is something of a first for the UAE, as it is the first time the mixture of Long Reach Ethernet and wireless technologies have been combined this way.

“Long Reach Ethernet as a technology has been quite popular with the defence sector, and wireless is everywhere; they all like it, and we have a couple of installations with oil and gas in Abu Dhabi. Technology-wise it has been implemented before, but doing it this way all mixed together it’s the first time. It’s unique,” said Ashraq.

As the main implementing partner why particularly this technology?

“Ethernet runs on telephone cables, and for longer distances, normal Ethernet runs only 100 metres, whereas LRE runs 1,500 metres. Also we tend to use wireless where it’s difficult to pull a cable.

“Performance wise it was enough to run Internet requests for the students, along with delivering a high performance network altogether. If you look at the whole environment and circumstances for the project you will see this is the best-fit solution. There are other alternatives, but they’re not the best, like running fibre optic cable instead of wireless. We chose LightPointe, because their wireless backbone, which is now between campuses is a high bandwidth wireless link that can accommodate a lot of the future applications like e-learning,” explained Ashraq.

Working closely together with Emirates and the university from the pilot project to the implementation, was the FSO provider LightPointe, a subsidiary company of Cisco. Malek Akili, director of LightPointe Middle East and Africa, explained the crucial role of the FSO technology.

“Ultimately we are providing the backbone interface like gigabit Ethernet speeds from Cisco, and other manufacturers switchers and routers, and then we’re providing campus-to-campus links, at a 100 Mbits/s connecting to the LRE and the wireless and the local area network traffic,” said Akili.
||**||III - Teamwork|~||~||~|
LightPointe’s role was integral not only when it came to the connectivity, but with the technology being relatively new to the region, Akili became the training consultant for the implementation of the technology.

“As with all new technologies it’s very important to spend the time to train the engineering people from the channel, especially if they’re putting a significant part of [their customers] network on this technology. Even though this technology has been used [by the military] for 30 years, its only recently been used publicly, and its only come to the Middle East in the last few years,” said Akili.

“I worked with Emirates Computers to train them, they came with me onsite, I brought the equipment and we did proof of concept at gigabit speeds. The nice part is now that Emirates Computers has gone through this whole process with me, they’re now going all over the place autonomously and doing installations without my involvement which is very gratifying,” Akili said.

“Actually it was all teamwork right from the beginning with this project we could never have made it without everyone participating fully, including the manufacturers, and the university themselves. Everyone put everything possible forward”, said Ashraq. “Cisco did an amazing job with deliveries. LightPointe had all their technical resources on site. The university were very helpful and co-operated fully. I don’t think we could have succeeded fully without all this teamwork.

“It was supposed to be implemented within the student’s holidays, which was four weeks although we had a deadline of eight weeks and this was the main challenge in my personal point of view,” said Ashraq. “I believe we have done it successfully, but there were some small snags which meant it took longer than the initial four weeks. So timing was an issue as we had to wait some times for students to leave the dormitories before the engineers and technicians could come back and do their work.”

While the implementation only allows for access to learning via the web at the moment, Emirates Computers are looking to find new ways of improving the system, as Ashraq commented. “Yes, definitely we consider the University as one of our prestigious accounts, and customers. We think of them even as a partner, not just a customer. We’re looking into covering more faculties with the same set up, we’re looking into advocating IP learning, and IP telephony, and systems that can sit on top of what we've done so far, and take the learning and education procedure within the UAE University a big leap forward.”
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