Botanical Garden Gets Connected

By William Atkinson

The 313-acre State Botanical Garden of Georgia, which is operated by the University of Georgia, is located a half-mile from a main road. This distance is just far enough to put the Garden—with its 11 botanical and horticultural collections, conservatory and five miles of nature trails—beyond the reach of the local Internet service provider.

Being without Internet connectivity was not an option for the State Botanical Garden of Georgia. The staff, researchers, and university professors and students use an existing intra-fiber network that interlinks the Garden’s three main buildings, but need an Internet connection to access e-mail and other systems at the university’s main campus in Athens. Another reason is that the Garden has between 50 and 100 visitors each day, and Garden staff has affixed QR codes throughout the site, but visitors need Internet access to the QR codes so they can learn more about the botanical and horticultural collections.

To solve the problem, the Garden first considered fiber technology, but the cost would have been about $20,000, and other problems were associated with that solution. “The fiber option would involve investing thousands of dollars just to get service to our facility,” says James Gilstrap, CIO at the Garden. “The DSL solutions were no longer available, and the fiber and cable solutions had no infrastructure within a usable distance of our location. As a result, no company was willing to invest in supplying one customer with service and having to ‘eat’ the cost of creating the service.”

Why Cellular Was the Solution

Cellular data service was the lone cost-effective and viable solution, but only if the Garden could install numerous wireless data cards. “After talking with multiple engineers from the Internet service provider and two mobile carrier companies, we decided that cellular data service was really the only way to go,” says Gilstrap. “However, we knew that one wireless data card wouldn’t be enough in terms of bandwidth capacity, as well as reliability. We needed at least four cards, and we needed a way to bond them together.”

The Garden selected PortaBella, offered by Mushroom Networks, which bonds 3G and 4G wireless data cards into a single, high-speed mobile Internet. PortaBella’s bonding technology aggregates the capacity of up to eight USB-based cellular data cards, providing increased bandwidth in both uplink and downlink directions for communication with host servers at the university, as well as to the Internet.

The Garden’s PortaBella installation went relatively smooth, but it still required some technical ingenuity. “The Garden is in an area that has minimal coverage for the use of 4G technology,” says Gilstrap. “Because the Mushroom device was able to utilize multiple carriers’ equipment, we were able to work with service provider engineers to find and determine who had the best signal, and where the device needed to be located.”

The Garden is very satisfied with the installation’s performance. “There have been no service outages because of problems with wiring to the facility,” Gilstrap says. “As long as we have power, and as long as the cellular system does not go down, we have no outside influences that could cause downtime, such as snapped cables or bad pairs in a wire.”

About the Author

William Atkinson is a contributing writer for CIO Insight. To read his previous CIO Insight article, “Data Protection Without Hardware Investments,” click here.

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