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Life in the digital world could get easier for anyone who has been caught in the logjam of mobile users while trying to post pictures from Allen Fieldhouse, Memorial Stadium, or just about anywhere else on the Kansas University campus.
A contract between KU and AT&T will allow the company to build a network of small antenna systems across campus, making it easier to upload and download data to cell phones. Eventually the network will be opened to other wireless carriers and could improve coverage campuswide for most mobile users.
Jeff Perry, deputy technology officer for KU Information Technology, said the goal of the system is to cover 95 percent of KU's campus, which includes nine million square feet of indoor space, much of that inside of thick stone walls that are hard for radio signals to penetrate.
Perry expects the new antennas to increase data capacity for mobile users 32 times over the current capacity. "That's a big, big increase," Perry said.
Sweetening the deal for KU, AT&T is providing all of the capital for building the network, with the expectation of recouping its multimillion-dollar investment by charging other carriers for network access and improving coverage for its own customers.
Installing the antennas will take place in three main phases, beginning with the southwest end of campus, including Allen Fieldhouse and West Campus. The next phase will build from the northeast in. The final phase will cover the remaining residence halls. AT&T expects to finish the project by the end of 2015, according to a news release.
KU officials anticipate that the new infrastructure will make life easier for students, faculty and visitors who upload and download data as part of their work and daily life. It is likely also to make things easier for users in crowded venues such as the Fieldhouse and Memorial Stadium.
"Try to make a phone call during a game in the football stadium, it's just not going to happen," Perry said. "The cell phone towers are completely overwhelmed."
But he expects that to change drastically once AT&T is finished with the project. He said it could also improve the quality of coverage for other parts of the city by relieving the pressure on cell phone towers that serve campus as well as Lawrence neighborhoods.
The sheer scope of the network improvements make it one of the most ambitious on a campus university to date, Perry said. That reflects both the notion that universities like KU should be "flagships" in the use of technology, as Perry puts it, but also the explosion of the mobile Internet.
"Five years ago there effectively weren't smart phones. Now you've got students uploading data constantly" as they interact with courses, watch videos, post on Facebook and read the news, Perry said. "At a university you have to support all those things."