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UC Takes Leading Role Nationally in Creating College 'Connectivity'

A new commitment by UC to create a "connectivity environment" available throughout UC's Uptown Campus will mean cutting the cords to landlines and data jacks, freeing thousands of UC students, faculty and staff to explore the options in going mobile without compromising information and technology services.

Date: 2/6/2006 12:00:00 AM
By: Carey Hoffman
Phone: (513) 556-1825

UC ingot   The future of lifestyles on college campuses is in the air, floating ubiquitously above the University of Cincinnati.

UC has just approved a plan that puts the university on technology’s leading edge, by committing to the creation of a comprehensive wireless connectivity environment for the conducting of major communication and data functions at UC.

The goal is to replace a culture tied down by landline phones and dataports with one built around "smart phones" – those multi-functional cell phones with data capability – and wireless connectivity. Right now, UC is pursuing that goal as aggressively as any university in the nation, with the start of service expected to begin within the next six months.

The vision being pursued is one of a campus where dorms and offices are no longer using landline phone or data services. In the words of UC Vice President and Chief Information Officer Fred Siff: "I was brought here seven years ago to create a wired campus, and now we are in the process of unwiring it."

UC has signed a contract with Cincinnati Bell to develop a comprehensive connectivity environment on and around its Uptown Campus. Not only will this provide conventional cell phone service, it will expand Wi-Fi service across all of campus and become the backbone for the rapidly expanding field of devices and options available as mobile applications. Tools such as PDAs, Treo phones and Blackberry devices, along with their successors in the future, will become primary communications instruments in the UC environment.

"There will be unlimited access and service potential across campus," said Siff. "For example, our students and faculty and staff will be able to use a service that will allow them to listen to their e-mail or instantly access GPS information. We’re going to be moving to an environment where we replace most landlines with cell phones and smart phones."

UC will fill the role of a Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO) for its users on campus. Those users will be able to access service for whatever digital device they may be using. They will receive ease of access at speeds not now available. Using a fee-for-service business model with an intention of offering below-market pricing, they will have access to multiple tiers of service choices along the lines of how phone and data services are now provided.

As far as the next steps, along with Cincinnati Bell’s development of the infrastructure, Siff sees several immediate concrete goals. One would be the offering of a "Bearcat cell phone" with UC-specific mobile applications and features. This would quickly become feasible and be a real value in differentiating the UC community. Features could include items such as unlimited local minutes, five-digit dialing for campus extensions, unified messaging and a location-identifying mobile help button.

Infrastructure development should be complete by the summer, guaranteeing 3-bar coverage throughout 90 percent of the Uptown Campus area. During the development stage, UC will conduct pilot groups to determine user needs, and hopes to have an entire residence hall without landlines ready to go by late summer 2006.

The objective is to roll out comprehensive cell phone programs over the summer, in time for the 2006-07 academic year. An interim service plan with better features, prices and coverage is expected to be ready beginning later in February.

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