Marine Laboratory Unwires Researchers

The Woods Hole Marine Biological Laboratory turned to Motorola Canopy to put its influx of summer scientists online.
Posted September 29, 2005

Naomi Graychase

Naomi Graychase

Woods Hole, Mass. is no ordinary Cape Cod town.

In addition to the typical influx of tourists during the summer months, many of whom come to visit the National Marine Fisheries aquarium (said to be the oldest in the country), to check out the first Buckminster Fuller Geodesic dome, or to board the ferry to Nantucket or Marthas Vineyard, Woods Hole also experiences a major influx of scientists. Every summer, the population of the seaside village, home to two of the worlds most significant marine research facilities -- The Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) and The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), which discovered the Titanic in 1986 -- swells with researchers from all over the world.

This unique summer population has for years presented a complicated telecommunications problem to these institutions. Dozens of researchers in multiple buildings spread out over several miles in isolated areas resulted in a challenge for IT managers, as well as for the visiting researchers and their families. The solution turned out to be a little old-fashioned cooperation, and some new-fangled technology -- fiber optics coupled with Wi-Fi.

In addition to a campus in downtown Woods Hole, the MBL has a 15-building campus which serves graduate students and other summer investigators. Housing consists primarily of several dozen rustic, old cottages situated in two loops several miles away from the central MBL buildings.

Despite being what MBL Network Manager Rob Loyot calls ''basically huts in the woods'', the cabins are much-desired, particularly by families, because of their proximity to beaches. However, there is virtually no cell phone reception, and due to the timing and method of housing assignments, turning on phones and cable has been a perennial nightmare.

''At best, it was extremely expensive and inconvenient. At worst, they would have nothing. It was like camping,'' says Loyot.

As pressure to bring the cabins online mounted, MBL began looking at solutions.

''We were closing in on deciding we had to do something dramatic when the opportunity came up to work with WHOI,'' says Loyot. ''Their project became an enabler to our project.''

While MBL and WHOI are two separate entities with their own staffs, budgets, projects, and long rosters of Nobel Laureates to boast about, they have a longstanding, collegial working relationship with one another.

''WHOI is in the process of building some fiber down to Woods Hole, where they also have some structures. We granted them the easement, and in exchange, we asked if we could grab a couple of strands of their fiber network,'' says Loyot.

WHOI agreed, and once the fiber was in place, the MBL started looking at cost-effective solutions for bringing the cottages online. Wireless was the obvious way to go, but thick stands of pine trees presented a problem.

This article was first published on Wi-FiPlanet.com. To read the full article, click here.

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