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Interactive education through microwave.

Since it was founded in 1912, Northcentral Technical College (NTC), located in Wausau, Wis., has experienced its share of growth and the challenges that accompany the expansion of an academic institution.

The school has grown from one campus to five regional campuses scattered throughout Wisconsin, the closest being 30 miles northeast of the main campus and the farthest being 100 miles northwest. Today NTC and its regional campuses span a 10-county area of Wisconsin that is larger than the state of Connecticut.

As with any institute of higher education, NTC strives to bring its students the most cost-effective education available. One of the primary methods used to achieve this goal is installing a versatile telecommunications system. The system employed by NTC not only carries voice, it carries audio/video and data as well. These capabilities are incorporated into the intercampus phone, fax, mainframe computing and NTSC (North American Television Standards Committee) video network.

Choosing microwave

To meet the demands of cost-effective inter-regional telecomm, NTC chose a medium-capacity microwave network from Houston-based Microwave Networks Incorporated (MNI). Beyond the cost-effective aspect inherent in the microwave system, the choice was made because of the size of the communities in which the regional campuses are located. Each of the towns is relatively small - their average population is approximately 2,500 - and none possesses a sophisticated telecomm infrastructure.

Because microwave is a self-contained communications medium, it can overcome lease line limitations and provide a total application package at a minimal cost.

The network, which has four T1 links, is comprised of 33 transmitters and 30 receivers using MNI's 23 GHz radios and MVR1206 radios, operating at 6 GHz.

The network's primary repeater is located on Mosinee Hill near the main campus at Wausau, with each successive campus acting as a repeater to the next. Repeaters are also located in Irma and Dover, Wis., for relay to the Phillips campus - the farthest campus from the hub at the main campus and its nearest sister campus.

In addition to the voice and data capabilities, the network carries audio/ visual frequencies which allow NTC to broadcast its Interactive Television System (ITV) from the main campus at Wausau to all five regional campuses and more than 15 additional community locations throughout the 10-county district.

The ITV classes offered by NTC provide personal contact between instructors and students who are physically separated. Students at a regional campus 100 miles away from the class' point of origin are able to see and hear classroom proceedings while being seen and heard by the instructors and students on the main campus.

The ITV system was born of NTC's ongoing dedication to excellence in education. It began to take shape in 1986 when the college received a $1.5 million Kellogg Foundation grant designed to bring wellness training to senior citizens. These training sessions laid the foundation for the interactive classroom. The foundation was built on after NTC was awarded federal Title III grants, and the network was expanded to provide greater capacity and more sites.

As the system grew it developed into a means of offering the benefits of education to students constrained by time and distance. Today the network is used to provide educational access to people who would not have the opportunity to attend courses offered at a single location or at inconvenient times. It also allows classes to be conducted despite low single-location enrollment or a lack of appropriately qualified instructors.

Mainframe over microwave

Utilizing an AS/400 mainframe system with real-time capacity on the microwave network enables NTC to offer students a variety of benefits, both in the classroom and the administration office. School records can be viewed and amended at any of the regional locations as well as the main campus. Students can enroll in the classes of their choice at any of the regional campuses, and attend the class at that same location no matter its point of origin, alleviating the need to travel to the main campus at Wausau.

NTC's curriculum recently has been expanded to include mainframe computer programming courses at the regional campuses in conjunction with those taught at the main campus. This unique co-application of a microwave network and mainframe computing is opening other doors of opportunity for future course enhancement.

Prior to the microwave system neither of these benefits would have been available to NTC's students.
COPYRIGHT 1993 Nelson Publishing
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Microwave Networks
Author:Shaefer, Brent
Publication:Communications News
Date:Sep 1, 1993
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