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Student survey shows surging demand for wireless access

Madison, Wis. - Mobility is the new mantra for student technology usage on campus, according to an annual survey that finds laptop computer ownership about to surpass desktop computers and an expanding interest in wireless access.

The 2005 University of Wisconsin-Madison Computing Survey, which randomly polled 1,600 students last spring, looked at emerging trends in technology usage as well as future areas of need. The survey is sponsored by the Division of Information Technology (DoIT).

One key finding, according to DoIT public information director Brian Rust, is that laptop ownership is growing rapidly while desktop computers are in decline. Laptop ownership has climbed from 26 percent of students in 2001 to 56 percent this year, while desktop computer ownership slumped from 74 percent to 61 percent over the same time.

Interestingly, one in five undergraduate students and two in five graduate students reported owning both laptop and desktop computers.

"More, better, faster - those are basic expectations for current students," says Rust. "They want to be connected regardless of where they are."
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To accommodate the rapid increase in laptop usage, DoIT has been prioritizing wireless network development. UW-Madison currently has wireless access in most of the university's public access areas, such as the unions, the libraries and some residence halls, but the goal will be to have a ubiquitous wireless environment by summer 2006, Rust says. A completely wireless network will involve creating 2,600 access ports around 130 buildings on campus.

More than 50 percent of students reported that they currently use wireless computing. When asked what new or expanded services they wanted, the runaway request was more wireless with stronger signals in labs, classrooms and "comfortable places."

With the increase in laptop usage, Rust says information security and storage has become a bigger issue. The university offers a "Bucky Backup" service that allows students to safely store files on the network, but most students use thumb files or flash drives that hold vast amounts of memory.

Other finding include:

• Phone usage: Land phone lines took a major plunge in the last three years, going from 80 percent in 2002 to 44 percent this spring. Likewise, cell phone usage is the new standard, with 87 percent of students owning a cell phone.

• Personal digital assistants: There is surprisingly little early adoption of PDAs among students, with only 17 percent of students owning one overall and a major gap between age groups: freshman (8 percent ownership) compared to professional students (31 percent ownership).

• Campus computer access: The survey showed that the top three choices for accessing the Internet were campus computer labs (44 percent), cable modems (40 percent) and campus kiosks (33 percent). Dial-in access was "dropping like a rock," down to 12 percent of overall use compared to 63 percent only a year ago.

• MP3s: Virtually unknown a year ago, this spring 35 percent of respondents reported ownership of MP3 players, a device that plays compressed audio files.

• Online Communication: The vast majority (82 percent) of students reported having more than one active email address; and 66 percent reported that instant messaging was either very important or somewhat important to them.

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