Mobile Computer Service for Students

by Joe Lee

In March 2000, the University introduced a pilot notebook computer loan scheme as an extension of the Wireless LAN project. By allowing students greater access to the computer applications on the network and the Internet via the Wireless LAN with the use of portable computers, the purposes of the pilot scheme were to increase the number of network access points in campus without taking up additional space and to gauge such need and demand for Wireless LAN access by students.

As the pilot scheme is coming to an end, it will soon be replaced by a new service, the Mobile Computer Service. This initially involves a more user-friendly set up and a more efficient operation for operating a loan pool of around 300 units of new wireless notebook computers and another pool of few hundreds of wireless LAN cards at the Service Counter of the Computing Services Centre (CSC) inside the Student Terminal Area. The service will later be extended to support other wireless devices and applications (e.g., PDAs, Tablet PCs, wireless phones, etc) on the same wireless LAN.

In order to consolidate resources and workload, the existing loan pool of notebooks in the Library will be transferred to this scheme, making a total of 350 machines available for loan.

All full-time and part-time students are eligible to borrow the notebook computers and are liable for any damage or loss. A Web-based system integrating with the Banner system is provided for the reservation of notebooks in advance and the enquiry of the latter. Reservation is on a first-come-first-served basis and no waiting list will be maintained. Students are allowed to book either full-day or half-day sessions.

A point system, which accumulates points resulted from reservations, cancellations, late returns, violation of rules, and so on, is used to determine the priority of loan for each student. Students will be automatically placed, according to the points accumulated, into different privilege groups and hence, assume different priorities to compete for the loan. The system allows students fair access to the loan without having to wait physically in line. Students must return the notebook computers on time; otherwise, they will not only accumulate more points, but also be fined and penalized according to the regulations, and may even be temporarily suspended from using the service.

The existing CSC Service Counter will be renovated to set up an additional counter for loan and return of notebook computers. This new counter has three service points, each of which is able to handle independent loan-out or return operation. During peak periods, additional counters (such as the other end of the Service Counter and the Hard Copy Service) including mobile ones may be set up to ease the congestion if necessary. A video display is set up in front of the counter to show the availability of notebook computers and the late return information.

Inside the counter area are tailor-made "Notebook Barns" with fixed compartments for storing the notebook computers and for re-charging their batteries. Similar Notebook Barns equipped with locks will also be provided in the CSC Terminal Area for re-charging the batteries.

A maintenance workshop operated by the notebook vendor will be set up in the CSC to provide speedy repairs arisen from normal wear-and-tear. Repair not covered by warranty can also be serviced there but the cost incurred may be charged against the users. Students, if they so wish, can pass a malfunctioned notebook directly to the vendor's maintenance workshop for repair at any time after the check-out instead of returning it to the CSC Service Counter. Students will be requested to sign a defect form and a receipt will be printed.

This service is expected to begin some time in the Summer Term 2003. The CSC will continue to monitor the operation and make whatever adjustments necessary to improve the quality of service. We welcome comments on the service and setup. Please send your comments to