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Ohio University Gets Ultra Fast Hookup

PCs in every dorm room will have gigabit Ethernet access to the Internet and the university's own network.

CLEVELAND (AP) -- Case Western Reserve University is taking the gigabit plunge. In all, 16,000 computers, including machines in every dorm room, will be linked over the coming year to a fiber-optic network that delivers data at up to one gigabit per second.

That's about a thousand times faster than the typical home broadband connection. The speed is so fast that the research university's computer mavens still don't know exactly what they'll do with so much bandwidth, and that's the point of this $27 million investment: Case will look to develop applications that benefit from a supercharged Internet.

"You can actually do full-screen, full-motion high-definition video with high-definition sound," said the school's technology chief, Lev Gonick. "That's pretty amazing when you think about research science."

Medical students will be able to watch surgery in real time from a remote location yet experience it as if they were in the room.

A musician could even study with a teacher in, say, New York via an Internet audiovisual conference -- provided the teacher also had an equally fast connection.

"This is clearly one of the most aggressive, if not the most aggressive, deployments" of computer technology in academia, said Steve Corbato of Internet2, a national consortium of universities working on the next-generation Internet.

Corbato expects gigabit Ethernet technology to be common on university campuses within about two years.

For now, Case has got a leg up on such premier tech universities as Pittsburgh's Carnegie Mellon and the California Institute of Technology, which offer only a tenth of the speed at 100 megabits per second.

"Many universities are looking into gigabit networking on campus," said Joel Smith, CIO at Carnegie Mellon. "They just proceed more rapidly or less rapidly depending on funding and other concerns."

Carnegie Mellon, like Case, in the 1970s was one of the first universities to experiment with networked computers. It currently has some gigabit-speed links between buildings and is constantly upgrading, Smith said, adding that like many campuses, Carnegie Mellon offers wireless connectivity so students and professors can log in from anywhere.

"Rare is the university that can do this all at once," Smith said.

John Dundas, Caltech's director of information technology, said competitive pressures will force other universities to follow suit even though the technology at first will benefit a limited pool of graduate-level researchers.

"Until faculty are able to integrate these kind of technological innovations into their teaching, it's not going to have a lot of impact on the undergrads," he said.

Case Western, a 9,600-student university, contracted with Sprint and Cisco Systems for the upgrade. As part of the deal, Sprint can test new technologies at the school. In return, Case gets discounts on future technology upgrades.

Vlad Babich, 30, a doctoral student from Ukraine studying management and operations theory, said it will remove barriers to complex mathematical calculations.

"Usually we run up against the computer's limitations when we are solving large problems," he said. "Anything you can do faster, it will definitely make a difference."

The new computer system will be able to run complex applications at lightning speed and move large amounts of data between computers around campus, Babich said.

The project does have some costs for students.

Dorm residents are charged a new $400 "technology fee" in addition to the university's $22,500 annual tuition, and of course, they need to own a computer.

The Case system will take about a year to complete, but it is already operating in several dorms and the new building of the Weatherhead School of Management.

Inside the building, audio-visual manager George Klippel demonstrated an otherworldly classroom: Each student desk has a data port that links into the gigabit Ethernet network. The professor stands at a custom-made computerized podium that looks like a touch-screen teller machine.

From the podium the professor can control the lights, video projectors and sound system in the room, as well as surf the Internet and link to every other student computer.

It will take some time to develop broader commercial applications for gigabit Ethernet, in part because companies don't know what they could do with it.

In the private sector, gigabit systems are limited to a few large corporations that can afford the investment and have a need for that much computer capacity, said Catherine Stewart of Cisco.

"It is incumbent upon the higher education community to demonstrate the value of it," said Corbato.

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