The world's first large-scale 802.11n wireless LAN has now gone operational at a small, rural New York state college.

The 11n WLAN, based on gear from Meru Networks, is still in its shakedown phase, according to Morrisville State College IT staff. The 720 new AP 320 11n access points, replace the same number of 11a/b/g access points installed over the summer in the first phase of Morrisville's migration to 11n.

There's been no time yet for systematic performance and capacity testing, but students and IT staff say they're seeing improvements compared to the previous 11a/b/g infrastructure. Bandwidth-hungry applications are noticeably faster it is reported. Classrooms can run video newsfeeds and online conferences without buffering delays. Users don't have to struggle with dropped connections.

MSC student Timothy Koch, a senior in the Network Administration bachelor's degree program, says 11n throughput and capacity are changing what can be done in classrooms. In his Network Defense and Countermeasures class, for example, students now can work effortlessly with streaming video feeds and online security conferences. "The wireless [network] that was provided before wasn't fast enough to watch the video feeds," Koch says. "The videos would still take time to buffer, and it was annoying when you're trying to participate in class exercises and the video streams do not want to function properly."

Currently, Morrisville is seeing just over 1,200 simultaneous wireless clients at peak periods. There are about 3,000 official, registered users. Besides laptops there are about 80 other devices on the network to date, including new wireless iPod Touches, a few Apple iPhones, some other handhelds and wireless gaming consoles.

Meru was the first vendor to ship Draft 2-compliant 11n gear, but its rivals are crowding close behind. Colleges and universities are among the first organisations to take the plunge with 11n.

Duke University is piloting Cisco 11n access points at several dorms, and Carnegie Mellon University has announced its decision to deploy 11n gear from Aruba Networks and Xirrus in 2008, in a massive, campus-wide WLAN.

The advent of Draft 11n equipment could mean the "end of Ethernet" as the medium for client access, says Burton Group analyst Paul DeBeasi. One reason for the willingness to adopt the new equipment is the 11n interoperability testing now under way by the Wi-Fi Alliance.

Based on original reporting by John Cox, Network World.