College goes wireless with some vendors

With plans to construct a wireless learning playground for its students, an Ontario college has attracted two high-tech heavyweights into a multi-million dollar deal, with just a few strings attached.

Compaq Computer Corp and cohort Avaya Inc. were on hand at a groundbreaking ceremony last month to offer their support – along with a hefty $10.25-million cheque – to Scarborough, Ont.-based Centennial College. The donation will go toward building the college’s planned Science and Technology Centre to be located at the University of Toronto’s Scarborough Campus.

“This alliance will put our new campus at the leading edge of technology and training,” said Centennial College President Richard Johnston. “This collaboration is the future of education. It is not just a preferred negotiation. It is a negotiation where all parties win.”

Compaq Canada President David Booth said that although Compaq has not had a long relationship with Centennial, he agreed that the investment will prove mutually beneficial.

“Over one million people could be employed if they had appropriate knowledge and skills,” Booth said adding that students will be offered the training and skills necessary to compete in the IT industry. “These will be candidates (that Compaq) may consider (hiring) a few years down the road.”

To assist in the construction of the new learning centre, Centennial has also been given a grant of $37.8 million from the province’s SuperBuild Corp., an organization that was created in 1999 in response to Ontario’s growing infrastructure deficit. The donation is SuperBuild’s largest to date.

As part of the agreement, Compaq and Avaya will provide the equipment for Centennial’s wireless network infrastructure, which executives say will be 802.11a- and 802.11b-compliant.

“With wireless infrastructure, students can study in places where they could not before,” said Victor Garcia, managing principal for Compaq Global Services Canada. “Students will also be building wireless infrastructure and will be able to learn about wireless networking and graduate as experts.”

According to Avaya Canada’s Dan Lacombe, senior vice-president of sales operations, the college will have the ability to utilize Avaya resources as well as Avaya labs, and will also use the recently announced Avaya APIII wireless access points.

Not only will the Centre offer students a wide assortment of technologies, but Centennial said students will participate in applied research projects, will test emerging technologies and will be exposed to new programs focused around e-business, e-health and wireless technology.

In return for its investment, Centennial said that Compaq will be able to test and learn how its latest technologies fare, using the campus as a living demonstration site for new products. Compaq has also been awarded naming rights to the centre as lead donor.

“Education is truly our future,” said Compaq’s Booth. “It is no accident that Compaq became involved with Centennial. Compaq is proud to be associated with this initiative.”

Still, one analyst said that whether by providing hardware or software, students that are training on equipment provided by certain vendors will naturally develop a predisposition toward them.

“Although the [donation] may have a true humanitarian benefit behind it, the underlying objective is still there,” said Julie Kaufman, research analyst for skills development with IDC Canada in Toronto. “[Compaq and Avaya] are still hoping to get something out of the deal in the end.”

The Science and Technology Centre is set to be constructed and fully operational by 2004. For details on the project, visit the college on the Web at http://www.centennialcollege.ca.