COUNTY LINES

Florida county uses wireless technology in mobile classrooms

Over easy. Pinellas County, Fla., is wirelessly linking PCs in movable classrooms to Ethernet networks in main school buildings with a flexible, portable setup from Cabletron Systems Inc. of Rochester, N.H.

The county's 143 educational sites have 115,000 students, making the school district population the nation's second largest. Every year, the district moves trailerlike classrooms depending on student population growth and shifts, senior systems analyst Paula Krisa said.

'We needed something that was flexible, that didn't cost money to lay wire in the ground and then when the portable moved, you lost your investment,' she said.

So the county turned to Cabletron's RoamAbout products. The RoamAbout setup consists of the RoamAbout Access Point bridge, a lightning arrester, an antenna and cabling.

Laying airwaves. The main school plugs its Ethernet LAN into the Access Point. The Access Point links through the antenna wirelessly, at 11 Mbps, to a counterpart antenna at the annexed classroom. That in turn links to an Access Point at the annex and through to hard-wired PCs there.

The technology also could link a government agency's PCs in annexes or temporary offices to its main network, said Peter Beardmore, Cabletron wireless product marketing manager.

The Access Points can mount to a wall or ceiling, and antennas can be three to 10 miles apart, depending on bandwidth. In Pinellas County, the setup easily picks up and goes with the portable classrooms, Krisa said.

Scrambled data. The RoamAbout products provide 40- or 128-bit encryption during wireless transmission.

Organizations with an outdoor RoamAbout setup can switch it to internal mode if an annex closes or a renovation is completed, Beardmore said. Internally, the system wirelessly links handheld and notebook PCs to the building's network.

Pinellas County has found the technology to be as affordable as an equivalent wired setup, thanks in part to a boost the industry received from last year's release of the 802.11 wireless LAN standard by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Krisa said.

'And we're saving a ton of money because we're not having crews come down and construct [a wired connection] every time we put in a relocatable,' she said.

'Claire E. House

E-mail: chouse@gcn.com

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