Duke: iPhone May Be Disrupting Network

Apple Inc.'s flashy new iPhones may be jamming parts of the wireless network at Duke University, where technology officials worked with the company Wednesday to fix problems before classes begin next month.

Bill Cannon, a Duke technology spokesman, said an analysis of traffic found that iPhones flooded parts of the campus' wireless network with access requests, freezing parts of the system for 10 minutes at a time.

A single iPhone was powerful enough to cause the problem, and there are 100 to 150 of them registered on the network, Cannon said. Network administrators have noticed the problem nine times in the past week.

"The scale of the problem is very small right now," said Cannon, adding that the school is working with Apple and Cisco Systems Inc., Duke's network equipment provider, to pinpoint the problem. "But the more iPhones that are around, the more they could be knocking on the door for access."

Fall classes resume in August at Duke, a private university in Durham.

The iPhone is Apple's first foray into the cellular phone business. The Cupertino, Calif.-based company released the product -- which combines a cell phone, media player and wireless Internet device -- at the end of June, with some consumers lining up outside stores days before the phones went on sale. The phones retail for $499 to $599.

The gadget can access the Internet through AT&T Inc.'s Edge network or through Wi-Fi. When a Wi-Fi hotspot is unavailable, it automatically switches to the slower network but continues to check for a Wi-Fi signal.

Ashok Agrawala, a computer science professor at the University of Maryland, speculated that both the phone and Duke's network are to blame for the glitches at the university. Agrawala said the phones could be struggling to regain a connection with a wireless access point, possibly when a wireless hotspot hands off to another.

"When you set up a network on the campus, you set up the network to accommodate the devices you have in use," Agrawala said, noting laptops as the primary users on college campuses. "Now with the popularity of the iPhones, the network parameters may not be set right."

But he added that the iPhone should be able to properly handle that problem without flooding the network. Agrawala said he also questions whether an iPhone is capable of accessing Duke's network 10,000 times a second, as found by the school's analysis.

Natalie Kerris, an Apple spokeswoman, said the company is working with Duke to quickly resolve the issue but didn't know details or its source.

The problem has generated discussion on Internet technology forums, but there have been no reports of other networks being affected. At Maryland, for example, officials said they hadn't seen anything like the problems at Duke.

Greg James, associate director of data networking at nearby North Carolina State University, said Wednesday that the school hasn't noticed any issues at its campus in Raleigh despite the usual monitoring of all wireless access points.

"We're keeping a close eye out to what happens at Duke and what they find," James said.


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