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Rhodes > Student Networking > Info > Off Campus Model

Off Campus Model

When started connecting private complexes to our network in 2005, a prime driver was the lack of commercial broadband offerings in Grahamstown. There are now many realistic and affordable commercial alternatives available for connecting digs. Technology advances, particularly with wireless, have rendered the model described in this page less attractive than it once was, and the cost of deploying University-managed wireless is significantly higher. In addition, the underlying funding model for the Student Network changed at the beginning of 2013, making connectivity on campus free to all students. Thus, as of 2014, we are no longer actively trying to grow this part of our network.

Due to financial, technology and staffing constraints, we regret that we are unable to consider adding any additional complexes to the network at this time.

The model that the University uses for connecting private buildings housing students is a split-ownership model that's very common throughout continental Europe and the Americas.  The gist of it is that the University and the owners of the building split the infrastructure costs, and the responsibility for maintenance, at a clearly defined point.

What Rhodes provides

Rhodes it is usually more than willing to set up a point of presence in any large flat complex, etc. This generally consists of a standard 19" equipment rack or cabinet with some switches and transmission equipment in it. We will connect our point of presence to the University's network via a suitable technology (we've used SDSL, wireless, free-space optics, and fibre optic cables in the past, but are unlikely to consider anything but fibre optics for new connections). We will also maintain the point of presence in a usable state, and to upgrade it if needs be. This is all done at our cost, and we amortise our expenses over a 3-5 year period. In general we invest between R50,000 and R200,000 (depending on the number of connections) setting this up.

From a logistics perspective, the point of presence needs some physical space. We'd prefer a dedicated, lockable location for this (a closet with 1m2 of usable floor space is typically enough), but we can negotiate if this isn't possible. We need to be able to gain physical access the point of presence on a 8x5 basis, and do not mind complying with gate or access control requirements. It also has some modest electrical power requirements (~ 500W on a 24x7 basis), and needs a dedicated 16A plug circuit for this (separate circuit breaker, no ELCB). Commission-free access to both of these would be a a condition of our installation.

Distribution from the point of presence to individual flats/rooms would be over 100Mbps Fast Ethernet. The University includes one or more Ethernet switches in its point of presence for this purpose. We generally provide as many switch points as there are rooms.

We charge students for making use of our network and point of presence. The charges are explained at here.

The University is not an Internet Service Provider, and so does not provide Internet access for anyone not affiliated with the University.

What we expect owners to provide

In order to facilitate the distribution of networking within their building, the owners/developers of the building will need to install all the physical UTP cabling, the sockets in the walls in people's flats/rooms, etc. This cabling infrastructure is at the owners' expense, and need not be dedicated to this purpose (proper structured cabling can be used for telephone or intercom distribution as well, for instance). In order for our point of presence to operate correctly, the cabling needs to meet or exceed the IA/TIA-568 Category 5E standards(this is the normal 100Mbps network cable standard, and almost all modern network cabling meets this). As an aside, the owners can expect properly installed cable of this type to have a lifespan of ten to fifteen years, if not more. In accounting terms, it is usually considered an asset.

The model allows for the owners of the building or their agents to recoup infrastructure costs by charging tenants a fee for doing cross-connects. Some complexs have chosen to amortise their investment within the development costs and so don't pass it on directly; others include a levy in the rent when students sign a lease; and yet others (particularly those that have a third party support contract) directly charge students before doing cross-connects. It is up to the owners to decide what works for them.  (All we ask is that you let us know if you levy a surcharge so we can give students accurate information.)

Recently we've been approached by two local IT companies, Insight Technologies and GEEnet (Oracle ITS). Both have come up with very similar models by which they provide the cabling in a complex in exchange for an annual levy, either deducted from the rent or collected directly from students. These companies also offer ongoing support for some complexes. Their models work well for some owners/developers, and have helped expand the project.  Their models are also in line with the University's expectations, since the agreement is between the owner/developer and them to meet the owner's side, and leaves the University's component unchanged.  Thus University is happy to work with either, and for them to act as intermediaries in any discussions.  We'd potentially be willing to work with other companies, but suggest you talk to us first if you wish to do this.

Given that we've got a fair amount of experience in this area we're also willing to offer some advice about how to go about doing this sort of cabling should owners or developers want to do it themselves. We can also suggest local contractors in town who may be able to do the necessary work.

Linking the two together

There should be a demarcation point between the University's infrastructure and the building owner's infrastructure. In most cases, this demarc point is achieved with industry-standard Ethernet disconnect blocks (this is very similar to how Telkom, for instance, connect up cabling in flat complexes). We're also willing to make use of patch panels, but in our experience they're less reliable.  However it is done, the demarc point indicates where responsibility/ownership changes.

When a student wishes to connect to our network, a physical connection is made from one side of the demarc to the other. This connection from your infrastructure to ours is called a cross-connect. In places where we're the only provider, these connections are sometimes permanent which makes the process much easier for the students.  This is not a requirement, however, and these connections can be used to ensure the collection of levies if necessary (i.e. only do the cross-connect once a student has paid).

The cross-connect makes the network point "live" and allows the student access to our network.

Why split ownership?

You'll notice that one of the fundamental things about this model is that it has split ownership. This is important to us as it ensures the full buy-in of the building owners, which in turn ensures that the project is sustainable over a number of years. Given our investment and amortisation periods, this in turn helps to ensure we will ultimately cover our costs.

It also means that Rhodes need not be the only service provider -- we can only provide access to people affiliated with the University, but another ISP is welcome to negotiate with the owners for access to their cable plant. The University has absolutely no expectation or desire to have any sort of exclusivity over the provision of Internet access to students.

How to go about this

We consider requests to connect to the University on a case-by-case basis, and will only agree to do so if we believe that such a connection is technically feasible, economically viable, and sustainable over the amortisation period. We also take into consideration the impact connecting such a complex has on our core business, which is providing sustainable and reliable ICTs to the University. As a general (and fairly hard and fast) rule, we will not consider connecting any complex containing fewer than twenty students. Larger complexes may be connected at our discretion.

As a result of the changes in the funding model that occured in 2013, we are more likely to considering connecting a complex if owners are willing to facilitate cable routes into their complex (trenches, underground sleeves).  This is particularly relevant in cases where roads need to be crossed.

If you are the owner of a complex you'd like us to consider connecting to the University's network, please contact us and arrange to come and discuss the matter with us.

Last Modified: Mon, 21 May 2018 12:43:13 SAST