1. Introduction

For some time it has been recognised that a pervasive wireless network across the University is required and that this should be provided in a coherent manner. Besides the obvious need for members of the University be able to move freely whilst still having network connectivity, there is a requirement to provide access to visitors and to carry future services such as VOIP (Voice Over IP) on a wireless network.

In 2007 a bid was presented by OUCS to the University IT Capital Planning Group, sponsored by the Office of the Director of IT.

The proposal is to implement a second generation wireless deployment. This will allow for improved roaming capabilities and all configuration, control and updating undertaken through a central management system. Additionally, new wireless access points will be deployed in 60 separate public areas such as meeting rooms, libraries, lecture rooms and reception areas. This approach ensures a coherent service for users as they move from one area to another, and will substantially reduce operational overheads.

This public document contains an overview of the OWL Version 2 project's history and objectives. A separate document, accessible only from University systems, covers technical issues such as scenarios for deployment.

If you have any remaining questions, please do get in touch at <networks@oucs.ox.ac.uk>.

2. Background to the Project

In 2005, OUCS undertook a successful pilot project into wireless networking. Following on from this we introduced the OWL (Oxford Wireless Lan) service which enabled all colleges and departments across the University to connect their own wireless access-points onto this infrastructure. Underpinning this was the FroDo project which enabled a wireless service to be presented alongside the normal data service.

This has facilitated wireless provision in several locations across the University but it has been in a somewhat ad-hoc fashion and is dictated by the individual requirements and investment of the colleges and departments concerned.

Our proposal was to implement OWL Version 2 with a more coordinated approach using lightweight access-points managed through central wireless controllers. This would allow for improved roaming capabilities and all configuration, control and updating will be done through a central management system. This approach substantially reduces operational overheads.

The intention is to provide wireless access in public areas such as meeting rooms, libraries, lecture rooms and reception areas, where it would achieve maximum benefit. It is expected that internal staff will continue to use wired connections. If internal coverage is required, for whatever reason, there is scope for the unit to purchase additional wireless access-points through OUCS.

OUCS feels that the best way to determine which public areas need wireless the most is to ask the divisions themselves. Each of the five divisions has been asked to shortlist their preferred hotspot locations.

3. Overview of OWL Version 2

It is estimated that there are around three hundred access points currently deployed within the University. The vast majority of these are Cisco Aironet 1100 and 1200 series, as purchased by departments and colleges following the advice of the OUCS Networks team.

The Aironet access point was selected because of its ability to operate in both an autonomous, and lightweight, mode. In autonomous mode, the access point contains a full configuration, and runs independently of any other network hardware. In lightweight mode, the access point is slaved to a mother-ship controller appliance, and no configuration is stored on the access point when it is without power.

OUCS has now been allocated funding to run a set of controller appliances for the collegiate University. These appliances can manage a large number of lightweight-mode access points as a cloud, providing balanced power level, SSID and radio management across all sites. With the unit's blessing, its current Cisco access-points can be easily migrated to lightweight mode.

In addition around 300 access points will be purchased. They will be deployed over a period of three years, to around 60 sites within the University, with the sites being selected by and evenly distributed between each of the divisions. Those sites nominated by the divisions have now been published, and will be receiving surveys over the coming months.

Further wireless coverage in any department or college is possible by OUCS offering to extend the service described above, on a cost-recovery basis.