Skip to main content
Science & Space
CNN Europe CNN Asia
On CNN TV Transcripts Headline News CNN International About Preferences
powered by Yahoo!

Wi-Fi: New ways to connect on campus

By Marsha Walton

Students designed programs to find restaurants and clubs in Athens, Georgia.
Students designed programs to find restaurants and clubs using wireless connections.

   Story Tools

• Business 2.0: Chasing Bluetooth and Wi-Fi external link

ATHENS, Georgia (CNN) -- "Wouldn't it be cool if...?"

Those five words, spoken at an informal meeting at the University of Georgia last year, launched a wireless project at the school that's grown quickly and gained international attention.

Known as the WAGzone, the Wireless Athens Georgia Zone, this wireless "cloud" covers 12 blocks in the heart of the college town. Nine boxes that transmit and receive data are mounted on light poles and traffic lights. So anyone with a PDA (personal digital assistant) or laptop computer equipped with a wireless (Wi-Fi) card can log on to the Internet, free, when they're under that "cloud. "

"The real ultra-cool part of what we're doing down here is we're trying to change the relationship that people have with information," said Scott Shamp, the endlessly energetic director of the University's New Media Institute. "What we expect more than anything else is for creative ideas to come out of it."

Redirected to the zone

Gift shop owner Creighton Cutts likes the idea of being on the cutting edge of technology.
Gift shop owner Creighton Cutts likes the idea of being on the cutting edge of technology.

Students, faculty and staff who log on under the wireless cloud have access to all the WAGzone programs, and from there can get anywhere else on the Internet.

When someone not affiliated with the school logs on to any site, their device is re-directed to the WAGzone. That, according to Shamp, is to keep the zone focused on community projects, and not simply as a means of free access for any Web project.

"We've got the very beginning stages of a lot of things," Shamp said. "These aren't mature technologies. But some of the student projects are ones that we really expect to grow and become important resources for Athens. And really the most exciting thing is the businesses, the government, the students consider this to be a community resource and they're excited about it."

Creating the infrastructure had some challenges. Shamp said seeding it with timely, useful information is what matters in the long run. So when school started in the fall, he challenged students as their semester-long project to design programs that merchants, tourists, or their classmates would find useful.

These student designers first had to ask the question, what information would someone wandering Athens streets want or need? For visitors, that might be something as simple as a map, or a listing of restaurant menus. For students, it might be a real-time answer to the age-old campus dilemma, "Where can I find a parking space?"

Local store owners involved

Several students approached local store owners, from the tech-savvy to the tech-skeptical, to convince them that there was something in this "WAGzone" for them.

"It's a neat cutting-edge thing for me to be involved with," said Creighton Cutts, owner of the Frontier Gift Shop. "Obviously it gives me a new opportunity to advertise in downtown Athens. We have several ideas, like a wireless cloud coupon, so if you get within 100 yards of Frontier a coupon will pop up on your device."

Amber Rhea developed the design for Cutts' "wireless storefront," focusing on an unusual aspect of the store. On the Web and PDA versions of the site, she included the information that customers could designate a part of the price of their purchases for a humanitarian organization.

Music is big in Athens

Athens, the home of REM, Widespread Panic and the B-52s, is a big music town. Students Travis McCutcheon and Brian Spett designed a wireless project for the local music scene. Bar patrons can view song lyrics or background information on the evening's performers.

With money tight for many college students, the goal of this wireless project is to let music lovers scan the evening's club scene and make the best possible use of their limited entertainment cash. Students showed off a wireless techno-performance during an official launch of the WAGZone this week. The "Fairburn Royals" performance was streamed on the Internet; bar patrons could access lyrics and photos on their PDAs.

Another application is a sort of cousin to the instant message, letting students alert their friends where they're hanging out. Just log in, put in a password, and let buddies know you'll be having lunch at Barberito's until 3 p.m. Others under the "cloud" using the same program can decide when and where to connect.

Finding parking

Parking in a crowded college town may soon be less of a hassle if wireless technology can track available spaces.
Parking would be less of a hassle if wireless technology could track available spaces.

Knowing where to find your friends is sometimes just half the battle in a crowded college town. The next challenge is often finding a parking place. Wireless capabilities could someday ease that frustration, said student Molly Stofko.

"We envision meters with sensors, to let you know when a spot is available," said Stofko. Most parking decks already keep track of how many cars enter and exit, "So it's just a matter of connecting that information to the Internet," she said. A star on a PDA parking map would alert you that there's an empty spot at the corner of College Avenue and East Broad Streets, for example.

Some of these student projects are up and running, some are in the testing phase, others are still more dream than reality.

Story Tools

Top Stories
Quake jitters hit California
Top Stories
CNN/Money: Security alert issued for 40 million credit cards
© 2004 Cable News Network LP, LLLP.
A Time Warner Company. All Rights Reserved.
Terms under which this service is provided to you.
Read our privacy guidelines. Contact us.
external link
All external sites will open in a new browser. does not endorse external sites.