How Kane County's Fiber Optic Network Connects Judson University Students

How Kane County’s Fiber Optic Network Connects Judson University Students

  • Editor’s Note: This article by Lisa Jones Townsel was first published in Judson Today’s Winter 2017 edition and is republished with permission from Judson University.



On average, college students can own upward of five electronic devices that are kept near to fully charged at all times. But those devices can easily drain a college. That’s why many universities have sought creative ways to increase bandwidth for students, faculty and other factions on campuses.

“Our No. 1 customer is absolutely the students,” said Judson’s Vice President for University Information Systems and Technology Hasi Smith.

Students don’t necessarily go to a college because of its connectedness, but it can certainly play into the retention picture.

With school budgets shrinking and demand for speedy broadband ever growing, the conundrum continues for higher education institutions like Judson that seek reasonable ways to keep up.

That’s where Smith comes in. Smith was hired in February 2016. She came to Judson from a long-and-storied healthcare background, where she worked for more than 20 years directing information systems and telecommunications. Once she got to Judson, Smith was hungry to find solutions for Judson students, whose main concerns included accessing class schedules, game consoles and movies without system hiccups and misfires.

Who knew that what she would find would be an opportunity, a partnership if you will, that would not only benefit Judson and its student and faculty, but would link them to other higher-ed institutions as well.

Kane County’s Fiber

Smith had heard rumblings about some dark fiber strands — untapped fiber optic network cables, switchers and repeaters — being installed in the Elgin area. She contacted Kane County Chief Information Officer Roger Fahnestock right away to learn more. Fahnestock had been instrumental in laying the fiber during street construction along Randall Road and Highway 90 near Judson. He confirmed her suspicions — some of those fibers were actually on Judson property. In fact, two of those dark fiber strands are just south of the tennis courts.

Kane County started building a fiber optics network back in 2010 and created 47 miles of infrastructure along Randall Road. The objective was to connect county buildings in five cities that needed a better Internet connection source.

That infrastructure now connects Kane County to NIUnet, Burlington, Aurora, Elgin, Geneva, St. Charles, Batavia and Elgin Community College.

“He was innovative, forward thinking and amazingly smart,” Smith said of Fahenstock’s foresight to lay the fiber optics network well before it was needed.

Developing a Network

Roger Swenson, the network solutions architect for NIUnetwork, explained how this partnership would benefit Judson most.

“You have all of it. You have two things. You get Internet and a link into the greater educational community,” he said. “That’s what we are providing.”

Smith said there are now miles upon miles of fiber running from Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, Ill., to East Randall Road to Elgin Community College and east to Chicago universities.

Almost immediately, the partnership value was evident. The private NIUnet Internet connection is serviced by the city of Elgin, Northern Illinois University and Kane County. It has updated Judson’s Internet speed from 200 Mbps (megabytes per second) to 1Gbps (gigabyte per second), and the recent Internet Traffic scan showed the NIUnet pipe hitting peaks of 536 Mbps.

“This solution not only increases Internet speed on campus for students and faculty, but connects the university to other universities and libraries in a 10-county area and provides access to research databases and real-time delivery of distance education in essentially real-time DVD-quality picture and sound,” Smith explained, excitedly. “It also positions us for implementing cloud solutions and mobile applications, which are selection factors for prospective students.”

Now, instead of using Comcast as the broadband provider, Judson buys the service from NIUnet. The difference, however, is that Judson’s new broadband speed will be five times faster than it was before, yet the university will pay 47 percent less than it used to. The best part is that the purchase rate is guaranteed for the next 20 years.

Still, this plan couldn’t have come into play without the help of the city of Elgin, which laid the fiber. Judson had to petition the city for use of the fiber optics network since the work was done with taxpayer money. Smith credited Jeff Macey, head of Information Technology Services at the city of Elgin. “Without Jeff, this wouldn’t have happened,” she said, adding, “This is all a God thing, it really is.”

Yet, don’t think of this as the end of the bandwidth story, but rather the beginning.

“My job as the top box of IT is to provide people with the right tools,” Smith said. “I’m giving faculty and students the bandwidth to do research and leverage their computers. This is about forming relationships and creating endless possibilities.”

SOURCE: Judson University

About Judson University

Judson University, a Christian college nestled along the Fox River in the city of Elgin, is home to more than 1,250 students from 30 states and 20 countries. The university offers more than 50 undergraduate majors, minors and pre-professional programs and is presently the only evangelical Christian college or university to offer a fully-accredited graduate program in architecture. For more information, visit the Judson University website.