The University of Notre Dame has received an award from a higher-education technology group for an innovative approach to upgrading its communications infrastructure.
Notre Dame was chosen as the winner of the Institutional Excellence in Communications Technology award for 2007, presented by the Association for Communications Technology Professionals in Higher Education (ACUTA), in recognition of its Transforming Communications project. The project is based on a model for mobile communications that is designed to be continually adjustable to the changing demands of the university community.
In the Transforming Communications project, Notre Dame installed a multi-carrier cellular distributed antenna system to provide enhanced cellular communications across its
In addition, the university removed 3,364 traditional land lines in student housing areas and redirected its financial focus toward newer IT priorities for students, while also introducing cable TV services in all its residential spaces.
The Transforming Communications initiative “enables the university to achieve new ways of conducting our business and, more importantly, provide new ways to inform our students and enhance the quality of their educational and residential experience here at Notre Dame,” said John I. Jenkins, the university’s president.
A few years ago, university officials realized it didn’t make sense from a financial standpoint to keep providing in-room telephone service in students’ dorm rooms, because students were using cell phones to make all their calls. But ensuring proper cellular coverage was a challenge–and officials didn’t want to erect unsightly towers all over campus.
The solution they hit upon was a key factor in receiving ACUTA’s award, said Gordon Wishon, Notre Dame’s associate vice president and chief information officer.
“It became very clear to us that students seldom used the in-room phones the university provided, and that continuing to provide them did not track with the habits of our students,” Wishon explained. “Most students rely on cell phones and text messaging as their primary mode of telephone communications, and we really needed to focus our long-term efforts toward enabling that technology.”
Wishon said 95 percent of students arrive on campus with cell phones, and the majority of those phones are text-enabled.
But the challenge of providing strong cellular signals across campus, indoors and out, to thousands of students, faculty, and staff was another matter–especially, Wishon said, during Notre Dame football games.
“Notre Dame has had a history of keeping cell towers from encroaching on its campus,” said Dewitt Latimer, the university’s chief technology officer.
Pressed with the problem of cell coverage without towers, Latimer and his engineers elected to pursue a carrier-neutral distributed cellular antenna system–a network of small antennae that installers could hide on buildings and other campus structures. The university partnered with NextG Networks to accomplish its goal.
“Their distributed antenna system gave us what we needed in performance, carrier neutrality, and aesthetics. The antennae are difficult to spot unless someone shows you exactly where they are,” Latimer said.
“We have heard very positive remarks from students,” said William Kirk, Notre Dame’s associate vice president for residence life. “We have gone from students virtually hanging out of residence hall windows, trying to get decent reception, to five-bar coverage throughout most of campus.”
Regarding the project’s cost, Wishon said: “Much of this was cost-neutral from the perspective of the students, and there was some participation in the form of a capital investment by Comcast and the [cellular] carriers, who also made some significant … investments in order to locate their cellular equipment on campus.” These carriers included Verizon, Sprint, Cingular, and Nextel.
ACUTA said the project’s widespread success in maintaining university aesthetics while serving the rapidly changing and growing technological needs of the campus community contributed to its earning top honors.
“What Notre Dame has accomplished with its Transforming Communications project is an outstanding example of the innovation and technological progress we are seeing on ACUTA member campuses,” said Jeri Semer, executive director of ACUTA. “The university’s ambitious project to transform campus communications clearly reflects its commitment not only to its faculty, staff, and students, but also to its heritage as it provides 21st-century technology to enable the accomplishment of its timeless mission.”