University policy on wireless LAN equipment

1. About Wireless Local Area Networks (WLAN)

A Wireless Local Area Network (WLAN) provides radio-based data networking over a limited area. A WLAN is created by a device called an access-point (AP) that is usually attached to the conventional 'wired' network. Computers equipped with an appropriate WLAN network adaptor can associate with the WLAN, thereby acquiring a network connection.

2. University policy on Wireless Local Area Networks

  • The first point of contact for support of wireless network users will in all cases be as follows:
    • University staff: The IT support staff for the user’s department / faculty.
    • University students: The Computer Centre Helpdesk.
  • No WLAN equipment may be attached to the University network without the permission of IT Services. In most cases such equipment will be under the direct supervision of IT Services. Requests for permission to use WLAN equipment should be sent to service-desk@bristol.ac.uk.
  • Permission may be given by IT Services for equipment unsupervised by IT Services only in exceptional circumstances, For example, ResNet users in University accommodation subject to the ResNet WLAN regulations, or academic research into wireless networking and related areas.

3. Basis of prohibition

A WLAN is inherently insecure: WLANs do not respect walls, doors, or administrative boundaries. Because radio emissions from WLANs are, by default, unencrypted, it is essential that care is taken to secure them. In addition, insecure APs provide an entry route onto the network. In the interests of furthering convenient access to WLANs across the entire University to all staff and students, a single security solution has been adopted necessitating that all WLANs are managed centrally.

WLAN radio spectrum must be carefully managed: the efficient operation of a wireless LAN depends on a planned approach to the allocation of the available spectrum. A rogue WLAN’s hardware will interfere with other WLANs, resulting in the degradation of the performance on both WLANs.

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4. University recommendations on the appropriate use of Wireless Local Area Networks

WLAN technology provides new opportunities for enabling access to networks in a variety of settings such as libraries and from mobile devices such as laptops and PDAs. WLAN technology, however is not without drawbacks:

WLAN can be disrupted easily: the radio spectrum used by WLAN is unrestricted, meaning that anyone can use, and abuse, it. In addition, many common electrical and non-electrical objects can interfere with WLANs. WLANs can therefore be unreliable and should not be considered in deployments where truly reliable network access is required.

WLAN is slow: the data rates possible with WLAN are generally slower than those possible with a conventional ‘wired’ connection. While data rates are acceptable for many uses (such as web browsing and email access), other applications may stall.

As a consequence, as the technology currently stands, we advise that WLANs are not used for mission critical applications (such as giving lectures).

5. Summary

  • All WLANs on University premises must be deployed with the permission of IT Services.
  • Wireless networking requires support from departmental IT support staff for their staff users.
  • All WLAN access must be provisioned using technologies and systems approved by IT Services.
  • Wireless networking should only be deployed to supplement, and not replace, conventional network connections.
  • Wireless networking should only be used for non-mission critical applications.

All queries regarding this policy should be made to service-desk@bristol.ac.uk.

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