by Colton Campbell

You hold your phone up so it can scan your face. It unlocks. You tap the icons to open Instagram, YouTube, whatever. You look in the corner of your phone to see that reassuring symbol that says you’re connected to Wi-Fi.

Fiber wiresWhether you realize it or not, years of planning and the strategic execution of those plans have gone into making sure you have that connection.

Now, at the University of West Georgia, everyone on campus – students, faculty, staff and visitors – have even more assurance they’ll find that connection. With the recent installation of a redundant fiber-optic ring around campus, the university’s network infrastructure is ready for whatever technological advancements emerge in the next couple of decades.

Brian Henderson, director of infrastructure and operations for UWG, said the conception, design, planning, and installation of the fiber ring has taken more than six years.

“The need for this project presented itself when we looked at our capacity levels for our campus’ network infrastructure several years ago,” Henderson said. “We were at or above capacity in a lot of the fiber infrastructure in many areas of campus – and without a redundant system that would allow our stakeholders to remain connected even if one loop went down.”

A fiber ring is a network system in which each node connects to two other nodes, forming a single continuous pathway for data to travel. The system supports telephone services, streaming video, television, online data usage and storage, and internet services.

The fiber ring project completed recently took care of both of those concerns. Henderson said the project couldn’t have been completed without collaboration with partners across campus.

“There were a lot of hands in this project from day one that made it happen,” Henderson said. “Now, we have a network infrastructure that will last us the next 25 to 30 years. This is a long-term investment that allows us to meet the current needs of the campus while at the same time preparing us for things we can’t even anticipate in the future.”

One of those key partners was Campus Planning and Facilities, led by the department’s associate vice president, Brendan Bowen.

“The campus’ original fiber system was installed well before the invention of the iPhone or the popularization of Wi-Fi networks, so it was well beyond the end of its life cycle,” Bowen said. “We saw no way to continue to grow our campus and build our capacity without starting over with this project.”

Bowen said the fiber ring installation will provide a “consistency of experience” for everyone on campus, no matter where they are – in a residence hall, in a classroom, or in the middle of Love Valley.

“If we have faculty who are conducting research that’s reliant on the high-performance computing of a lot of data, we now have the assurance that we have access to a reliable, high-capacity system for them – and for everyone else,” Bowen said. “There will be no more anxiety about slowdowns or disruptions. We’ve looked at this system and thought about what it will be asked to do in the next 20 years, and it’s ready for it.”

Those technological advances won’t just occur in the palms of people’s hands, either.

“Other than paving a parking lot, there aren’t many projects we complete in our office that don’t have an impact on our campus’ network infrastructure,” said Sheree Srader, UWG’s director of planning and construction services. “HVAC upgrades, door replacements, security camera installations – all of those affect the campus’ capacity in some way.”

Henderson said that over the past several years, fiber or telecommunications has been lumped in with water, power, gas, and sewer as a necessary fifth utility. Srader said that won’t change anytime soon.

“The students on our campus today don’t have memories of anything that wasn’t wireless,” Srader said. “They have never known any life but a wireless one. We’re not moving to a point where we’ll ever be using less technology. It will continue to grow from now on. So we have to be ready to meet that expectation, and this project was a huge step in that direction.”

Posted on Feb. 21, 2020