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Lincoln gives Huawei contract to 'over-build' network as it seeks revenue growth

Friday 2nd September 2016

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Lincoln University, whose weak finances prompted the government to install a monitor last year, has given Huawei Technologies a contract to build a network bigger than it currently needs, betting it can use the extra bandwidth for commercial partnerships.

The Chinese telecommunications company effectively won the tender on the rebound because the university had been preparing to upgrade the network and had chosen another vendor before its plans were disrupted by the Canterbury earthquakes in 2010-2011. The value of the contract hasn't been disclosed.

Royston Boot, Lincoln's infrastructure manager, said Huawei, which wasn't in the running the first time around, would build a platform with enough network capacity to handle the data demands of staff, researchers, and students and potentially generate revenue from third parties.

“It’s more than our internet requirements at the moment, but we want to ensure it can deliver high-speed data as we grow," Boot said. “Access to high speeds for research is very important.”

The cash-strapped university is being forced to consider deeper cuts to its budget to restore its finances after shedding jobs and cutting costs in 2013 and 2014. Capital raising options include the sale or lease of Lincoln's farmlands, the elimination of less popular courses, and even potentially the merger with another university such as Canterbury. It is planning a research hub, largely funded by the government.

Lincoln had a $6 million loss last year and vice-chancellor Robin Pollard has been reported as saying it needs about $7 million to be self-sustaining. Last year the Tertiary Education Commission began monitoring its finances.

Boot told a Huawei-sponsored cloud computing conference in Shanghai this week that the new network was increasing interactivity with students and had allowed the university to beef up security on what was previously an open wireless network. He said it would also translate into more opportunities to link up with crown research institutes such as AgResearch, that could spin out commercially viable ideas.

Lincoln doesn't currently charge third parties to access its network and Boot said such an idea hasn't been well received although it would be possible. It could also be tapped by research centres set up on campus and used for basic services such as managing printing for third parties.

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