Frequently Asked Questions and Answers

Section 1. Getting Started Section 2. Using Penn State Wireless 2.0 Section 3. Visitor Wireless Section 4. Technical Information Section 5. Wireless Network Administrators (Current or Potential) Section 6. Miscellaneous

Section 1. Getting Started

1.1. What is a wireless LAN? Simply put, it's networking without wires and it's ideal for mobile users who want to remain portable while accessing common LAN-based applications like email exchanges, access to printers, Web browsing, and access to multi-user databases and applications such as word processing and spreadsheets.

1.2. How does a wireless LAN work? Wireless LANs transmit and receive data over the air via radio frequency technology, eliminating the need for wired connections. In wireless local area networking, a device called an access point, which is hard-wired to a computer network itself, broadcasts a signal to the surrounding area. Any device that is equipped with a wireless networking card can receive that signal and communicate with the access point, and through it, with the rest of the network.

1.3. What is Penn State Wireless? Penn State Wireless is a standard developed by OVPIT to enable departments to have an identical setup so that the Penn State community can move from one building to another seamlessly.

1.4. Is there a charge for using Penn State Wireless? No, there is no charge for accessing and using Penn State Wireless. Anyone with an active Penn State Access Account, an 802.11 wireless capable laptop with VPN software, and within range of an access point, can use Penn State Wireless. The VPN software is not required if using the Wireless 2.0 "psu" network. The service is provided by the department unit controlling the space.

1.5. How secure is Penn State Wireless? Very. Penn State's Wireless 2.0 service incorporates recent 802.11i WPA2 authentication and encryption methods that are aimed at providing an improved level of security and performance. Additional security measures require users to enter their Access Account user ID and password each time they log on to Penn State Wireless. With this authentication solution and user accountability, Penn State Wireless users can feel confident that the Penn State wireless network is secure and that their data transfers are safe while being transmitted over via the 802.11i protocol. However, both the sending and receiving computers must also have appropriate security safeguards.

1.6. What is Penn State Wireless 2.0? The Penn State Wireless 2.0 service incorporates 802.1X wireless authentication and encryption methods that are aimed at enabling an improved level of security and improved performance. You no longer have to download a VPN or relaunch a VPN session when moving from building to building. Just open your laptop and you'll see the Penn State Wireless 2.0 "psu" network.

1.7. What is a Penn State Access Account? A Penn State Access Account is a user ID and password that enables Penn State students, faculty, and staff to use the full range of Internet Services on or off campus, including Penn State Wireless.

1.8. Where can I purchase a Wireless Networking Card? If your laptop is not 802.11 wireless capable, you can purchase a wireless adapter card from any technology supply store.

1.9. What operating system platforms are supported by Penn State Wireless? Penn State Wireless supports 802.11 wireless capable laptops running the following operating systems: Linux, Macintosh OS X, Solaris 5.6, Solaris 5.8, Windows 95, Windows 98, Windows ME, Windows 2000, Windows XP (any version), Windows Vista, Windows 7, and Windows 8.

Section 2. Using Penn State Wireless

2.1. How do I get connected to Penn State Wireless? The Wireless 2.0 service is easy to use and only requires a one-time download and configuration. Once configured, if you are in a location that has Penn State Wireless 2.0 you simply need to open up your laptop, search for the "psu" network and begin to use the wireless network for your tasks.

2.2. What happens when I move between coverage areas of different access points? If you are within a Penn State Wireless 2.0 coverage area in the same building, your connection will be seamlessly transferred between access points.

2.3. Where do I go if I have trouble using Penn State Wireless? If you are experiencing problems with Penn State Wireless, contact the IT Service Desk.

2.4. Where is Penn State Wireless available? Check Penn State wireless locations for detailed information on registered wireless coverage areas throughout Penn State.

2.5. What do I do if I am getting a bad signal strength? This is usually due to interference that may occur from building walls, ceilings, metal, furniture, and even people. Moving your laptop just a few feet may improve your reception dramatically.

Section 3. Visitor Wireless

3.1 Does adding Visitor Wireless require any special equipment? Your LAN equipment must support 802.1Q technology.

3.2 Can Students use Visitor Wireless? Penn State students, faculty, and staff should not use Visitor Wireless where the "psu" network is available. Visitor Wireless is designed for use by visitors and guests of Penn State. It has inadequate resources for use by Penn State students, faculty, and staff. The psu network also incorporates recent 802.1X wireless authentication and encryption methods that will provide improved security and performance.

3.3 Are Penn State computing resources secure from users of the Visitor Wireless network? Users of the Visitor Wireless Service are issued IP addresses from the Service Provider. Virtual networking technology forces that these addresses can only be routed to the Provider's network. At that point, Penn State's computing resources are as secure as from any other public Internet source.

Section 4. Technical Information

4.1. What is the IEEE 802.11 Standard? IEEE is the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, a standards body that promotes design specifications to ensure compatibility between different manufacturer's products. 802.11 is the IEEE designation for the particular kind of wireless networking technology that is being

4.2. What kinds of wireless devices can access Penn State Wireless? Penn State Wireless is designed for use by 802.11 wireless capable laptops such as those that have either a built-in wireless chipset or a wireless network interface card (NIC), which fit into the PCMCIA card slots of laptops. We have found that 802.11b wireless capable laptops are not compatible with the Penn State Wireless 2.0 service. In addition, users with newer 802.11a/g/n devices should work fine but may need a firmware driver upgrade in order to access the Penn State Wireless 2.0 network.

4.3. What is the data transfer speed of Penn State Wireless LAN Service? The speed will vary, and likely will never approach the speed of a wired connection using modern technology. Performance speeds of up to 11Mbps and up to 54Mbps may be possible, though in a shared environment, and is dependent upon the client type and wireless service type (a, g, or n) availability. See Data Transmission Rate chart (below) for explanation.

Maximum Transmission Speed by Client / Access Point Type
  802.11g 802.11a/g 802.11g/n 802.11a/g/n
802.11b Not compatible
802.11g 54 Mbps 54 Mbps 54 Mbps 54 Mbps
54 Mbps 54 Mbps 54 Mbps 130 Mbps
54 Mbps 54 Mbps 130 Mbps 300 Mbps

4.4. What is a wireless access point? An access point is a single wireless ethernet device serving a small area (generally no more than 150 feet in most cases). The access point, the "starting point" for the service, functions as a bridge between the radio (air) and the wired network. It is through the access point that the radio card in the laptop finds a path to the Penn State intranet and other Internet connected resources.

4.5. What is the coverage area of an access point? The signal range for an access point on Penn State Wireless is approximately 150 feet indoors. The coverage area will vary depending upon physical obstructions in the coverage.

Section 5. Wireless Network Administrators (Current or Potential)

5.1. How do I get help designing my own wireless network? OVPIT can design your wireless network. The Penn State Wireless service offers departments complete design, implementation, and maintenance for wireless LANs. This service is available at all Penn State campuses. OVPIT can provide wireless LAN access in virtually all University Park buildings and at all other Penn State campuses. The service is considered an "Individual Good" and, therefore, must be funded by those organizations requesting the service in a particular building or building location.

The ordering, design, installation, and maintenance process for Penn State Wireless parallels those for wired LAN services offered by OVPIT. Lead times to activate Penn State Wireless in an area will depend largely upon a variety of factors specific to the area to be serviced. Some availability restrictions will apply.

OVPIT can also help you design your wireless LAN by offering advice regarding the design process and parameters, such as how to secure your wireless LAN, how to conduct or contract an RF site survey, etc.

Campuses, colleges, or departments interested in installing Penn State Wireless 2.0 should contact OVPIT through the OVPIT Service Inquiry form or phone 814-865-1696.

5.2. How do I register my wireless location? OVPIT has implemented a registration process to identify wireless locations on Penn State campuses. The designated Wireless LAN Administrative, Technical, or Security contact for each campus building is responsible for completing the registration.

5.3. How do I connect my existing local wireless network to the Penn State Wireless network? OVPIT can help interconnect your existing wireless network. OVPIT offers a service to help you augment your existing wireless LAN network. The service gives users of your local wireless LAN network access to Penn State Wireless.

5.4. What are the advantages of interconnecting? Benefits include seamless access to Penn State Wireless, state-of-the-art security, a consistent login procedure, and free interconnectivity.

5.5. How do I request the Penn State Wireless Assist? Contact OVPIT through the OVPIT Service Inquiry form or phone 814-865-1696 to begin explanation of wireless 2.0 for network administrators [PDF] (dated 7/17/12) to guide you through the configurations necessary to interconnect with Penn State Wireless.

5.6. I already have a wireless network. Can I get help with enhancing its security? OVPIT can help enhance your existing wireless network security. Data security is of primary importance. With wireless technology anyone within range using the right equipment could eavesdrop and gain access to the wireless system and therefore, the wired network. However, OVPIT provides the Penn State community with a secure computing environment using 802.11i with WPA authentication (see section 1.5).

5.7. Who can access Penn State Wireless? All on-campus student, faculty, or staff can access wireless in any Penn State Wireless 2.0-enabled building/are upon downloading and configuring the Penn State Wireless 2.0 client (802.1X/Secure W2 client). Also see the wireless locations.

5.8. Where can I find technical information on Penn State Wireless? See Section 4: Technical Information in this FAQ. The terminology may also be helpful.

5.9. What are the policies and standards pertaining to operating a wireless network? See the Network Installation and Maintenance Policy Installation and Maintenance of Local Area Networks. In addition, those electing to deploy their own wireless local area network should review the explanation of wireless 2.0 for network administrators [PDF] (dated 7/17/12) to guide you through the configurations necessary to interconnect with Penn State Wireless.

5.10. How do I select equipment to implement the next generation of wireless computing at Penn State? The next generation of Penn State Wireless service supports authentication and over-the-air encryptions at the network edge, in which case access points or other wireless equipment installed, whether by OVPIT or by administrative units choosing to deploy equipment themselves, will need to fulfill those functions. To accomplish this, the equipment used will need to have certain capabilities, based upon the architectural model chosen. See the explanation of wireless 2.0 for network administrators [PDF] for more information.

Section 6. Miscellaneous

6.1. My department has installed their own wireless LAN. How can we increase our level of security? OVPIT offers Penn State Wireless Assist, a secure method for interconnecting your existing wireless LAN, using state-of-the-art encryption technology.

6.2. I have a question that is not on this FAQ. What should I do? Contact OVPIT through the OVPIT Service Inquiry form or phone 814-865-1696.