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Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (Singapore)

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Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts Deploys State-of-the-Art LightPointe Optical Wireless Bridges for Fast, Reliable and Affordable Campus-Wide Connectivity

Cost-Effective FSO Deployment Delivers Winning Performance for Singapore's Premier Arts Institution

The Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA), the premier arts institution in Singapore, is recognized internationally for its high-quality curriculum, innovative teaching, artistic creations and community outreach. NAFA currently operates four schools: the School of Visual Arts (SVA), School of Performing Arts (SPA), School of Fashion Studies (SFS) and School of Young Talents (SYT). More than 3,000 students attend classes at a new, state-of-the-art campus, which spans 35,000 square meters and features leading-edge facilities and the latest amenities.

The Challenge:

As NAFA neared completion of the new campus construction in late 2003, the academy's information technology team began evaluating different network connectivity alternatives to link administrative and classroom buildings. The addition of fully equipped computer labs, studios and theaters drove an increasing need for high-speed connectivity throughout the campus. Initially, the team looked at both wireline and wireless solutions ranging from fibre, multiple E1s and radio-frequency based options.

In particular, NAFA wanted to link three new campus buildings with a high-speed network for transferring data, voice and video. Since connecting the structures with a wireline option meant traversing public roads and adjacent commercial properties, the IT team was concerned about the time and expense of obtaining regulatory permits as well as trenching roads and surrounding areas. After learning they couldn't gain access to the local service provider's underground services, NAFA next considered leased-line options. Again, cost came into play with projected monthly charges of $2,500 (local Singapore dollars) for installing a T1 link to connect two of the three buildings.

As an alternative to wireline access, NAFA considered installing Cisco Aironet WiFi bridges. While the monthly recurring charges would be eliminated by deploying an 802.11b or 802.11g wireless bridge, the technology team worried about insufficient bandwidth and security limitations. As an outdoor wireless bridge for enterprise LANs, WiFi links suffer from inherent bandwidth restrictions. With 802.11b, enterprises typically receive a maximum of 11 Mbps half-duplex transmission, which delivers about 6 Mbps on either end of the connection. While an 802.11g bridge delivers greater bandwidth, with maximum throughput of 54 Mbps, the half-duplex transmission results in much less than the 54 Mbps advertised.

While grappling with worries over low bandwidth and the possibility of "eavesdropping" on radio transmissions, a NAFA Council member brought free-space optics (FSO) technology to the team's attention. Optical wireless bridges based on FSO provide high-capacity bandwidth through the air on beams of light. At the same time, Singapore's Infocomm Development Authority conducted a study on FSO and published positive results in a white paper that was given to NAFA's technology evaluators. The team was impressed with the performance as well as the cost-effectiveness of the FSO-based approach. To that end, they contacted LightPointe, a pioneer in FSO, and requested information on the FlightSpectrum™, LightPointe's market-proven optical wireless bridge that sets the benchmark for bandwidth, distance and performance.

The Solution:

NAFA evaluated FlightSpectrum's features, including the ability to deliver connectivity speeds of up to 1.25 Gbps and innovative Multi-Beam Array Tracking (MBAT) to ensure system redundancy via multiple send and receive paths. Initially, the team was somewhat concerned about disruption to the optical link due to bad weather conditions or temporary blockages. In the long run, however, their concerns were alleviated sufficiently, especially when they learned that FlightSpectrum was the first FSO-based system ever installed in a major carrier network.

According to Zulkifli Osman, manager of information technology for NAFA, FlightSpectrum met all the academy's criteria. "We were seeking a cost-effective, high-bandwidth solution that would be reliable and resilient," he says. "We chose LightPointe because it provided the ideal balance of affordability, technological advancements and flexible bandwidth capacities." With the help of a local reseller, NAFA installed three pairs of FlightSpectrum optical wireless bridges to connect the three buildings, effectively creating a triangular network with redundant links for maximum availability.

Over a three-week period, the FlightLite Optical Wireless bridges were installed and NAFA began transferring data, voice and video between the three buildings. Training took less than one day. With the equipment up and running flawlessly, NAFA staff and students can access a centralised data repository as well as different applications located on servers at the main data centre. The bridges, which have been in place for seven months, have delivered a multitude of benefits.

The Benefits:

LightPointe's FlightSpectrum bridges have removed NAFA's recurring costs for connecting campus buildings while providing high bandwidth with minimal maintenance. At the previous campuses, NAFA linked buildings using leased lines with speeds ranging from 512Kbps to 2 Mbps. Now, they benefit from network transmissions at speeds of 1 Gbps, up to a thousand-fold increase in capacity. Other benefits derived from the FSO-based, high-speed network are improved communications and information dissemination throughout the campus, increased efficiency and productivity between staff and students as well as overall cost reductions due to consolidation and centralised management of key IT services.

NAFA's high-speed network lets staff and students use campus-wide Cisco IP phones to make internal extension calls between buildings without the time-based or line rental charges that would occur with traditional PBX-based phone systems. "We're also able to channel all requests for Internet access to the main data centre," explains Zulkifli. "We've taken advantage of our high-capacity network to consolidate other services such as email, file storage, disaster recovery and video streaming into and from the main data centre."

NAFA expects to achieve a return on its LightPointe investment in less than two years. "In the long run, we'll achieve fast ROI-and with minimum maintenance costs, continually reap the benefits of remaining connected and well informed," Zulkifli concludes.

Sound Byte:

"We chose LightPointe because it provided the ideal balance of affordability, technological advancements and flexible bandwidth capacities. In the long run, we'll achieve fast ROI—and with minimum maintenance costs, continually reap the benefits of remaining connected and well informed."
— Zulkifli Osman, Manager of Information Technology, Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts