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UNSW wants NBN for research campuses

The University of New South Wales' research campuses across New South Wales are crying out for high bandwidth on the NBN.
Written by Josh Taylor, Contributor

While the majority of regional campuses for the University of New South Wales are connected via the AARNet network with 1Gbps connections, Greg Sawyer, manager of Communications Services for the university, has said that researchers based outside those campuses are "screaming" for the National Broadband Network (NBN) to be connected.

The UNSW main campus is in Kensington, Sydney, but the university also has 25 regional sites from Albury and Wagga Wagga up to Coffs Harbour. Sawyer said most of the campuses were connected through AARNet, but the university was having challenges with making sure that researchers had decent broadband access.

"We have a water research site in Wellington, about 4km from town, so traditional ADSL is just on that range of being too far. We can pick up some Telstra Next G services, but we've noticed that network is slowing down," he said. "We're really struggling because we've got a field full of bores, and we're trying to get that data from that water research back."

He said that researchers had resorted to putting information onto disk and then posting it in the mail.

"That's the fastest and most-reliable way to get it back," he said. "We are screaming for something out that way. We're looking at needing that high speed connectivity to those regional sites to allow that research."

He said the university had looked at using satellite services, but he said that it was cost-prohibitive to get the kind of speeds that were required.

"We'd be wanting 10Mbps plus, and ideally 100Mbps to 1Gbps," he said. "If you look at something like a genome sequencer on campus, they can produce four 1Gbps streams simultaneously 24/7.

"Having that access in real time is critical for some of this research."

UNSW has 50,000 students, 5,300 academic staff, and 12,000 new students starting each year. Sawyer said that demand on the university's wireless network had almost doubled in the last year alone, with 20,000 concurrent users in peak times now, compared to 11,000 just one year ago.

"Students are early adopters of technology, and they expect that we are as well, to manage and support their connectivity," he said.

To meet the growing demand, UNSW has been deploying new Cisco 3600 Access Points across the network. The project commenced last year, when the network already had 1,000 access points, but the current project will see an additional 1,200 rolled out this year at a cost of AU$1.5 million.

The access points are upgradable, meaning that UNSW will be able to upgrade to 802.11ac standard as it is required across the campus.

Sawyer said that the focus will be on areas where students congregate: The library, the cafeteria, lecture theatres, and large outdoor areas on campus. He said that they were also sure to put an access point near where there was a power outlet, as students tended to flock to those areas to use their laptops.

In the quieter areas, he said the network could get speeds of up to 80Mbps, but in more dense areas, it would be more like ADSL2+ speeds.

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