Pei to receive potential WiFi upgrade

Information Technology (IT) recently approached the Technology Advisory Committee (TAC) and proposed purchasing 25 more access points for wireless internet. The access points will be put in first court and second court of Pei, and will improve the wireless connectivity students experience there.

The request is still in the proposal state. However those at IT are hoping that the request will go through and that the access points will be installed over winter break.

When Benjamin Foss, the current Director of Network Services, started at New College in 2005, WiFi was not a hot word on campus. The first NCF purchase of wireless that was established in the Pei dorms occurred in 2008. The primary devices that used it were laptops.

“Shortly after that wireless just exploded,” Foss said.

Now there are an estimated three wireless devices used per student. As of Oct. 9, 2700 unique devices had been connected to wireless at some point in the preceding week. In the preceding 24 hours, 1300 unique devices had been connected at some point.

As the number of wireless devices on campus increased, issues with capacity and signal strength began appearing. Upgrades began taking place in the Jane Bancroft Cook Library, classrooms and the residence halls. Dort, Goldstein and Z-Dorm were overhauled completely a few years ago. There is an access point in every Dort and Goldstein common room.

“Last winter in 2013, we put 16 more access points into the Pei residential area. Those were inside ones to help with the capacity issue,” Director of Information Technology Ryan Noble said.

This past summer, the WiFi was upgraded in third court Pei and B-Dorm when the buildings were renovated. In third court alone, 25 access points were installed. The existing access points were redistributed among first and second court.

As part of the upgrade process, the system is slowly being moved indoors to improve connection. Before this, antennas were outside and would transmit the signal inside rooms.

After Pei is upgraded, IT plans to move onto the letter dorms other than Z-Dorm. Currently these residential buildings have access points in their common halls. Some private rooms do have dead zones.

“This will be an ongoing thing for the life of the college,” Foss said. “Renewal and replacement, newer technology, faster speeds, it’s just something we’re going to have to keep up with.” Various divisions pay for WiFi on campus. The Provost, library, Residential Life and different departments all pay for WiFi for specific parts of the school.

“The library has invested time and money into making sure they have very good wireless because they know that’s where students go to study,” Foss said.

In a random poll of 59 students, 56 percent said that one of the places they receive the best wireless connection is the library.

Sixty-nine percent said that they are not currently satisfied with the wireless connection on campus. While poor connectivity can be attributed to weak WiFi in some cases, it can also be a fault of the device.

New College is a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) school. Every device is unique and presents its own unique challenges. This makes connecting to the wireless more difficult than it would be at an institution with a one to one program that provides its students with a device.

Those programs have the benefits of preconfigured devices that will automatically connect to the institution’s WiFi, but they are very expensive. It is not a system that a public state college like New College can afford to operate by.

However New College is on par with most other institutions. Foss emphasizes that the campus is running at industry standard.

IT is dedicated to addressing pitfalls to ensure that students have the ability to use WiFi on campus. This is a necessary task considering that 93 percent of students said that a poor wireless connection has made it difficult to do work on campus at some point.

“We understand how important wireless is to students and how important it will be over the years,” Foss said. “Wired Ethernet is going to be a thing of the past.”

IT recommends that individuals fill out a Help Desk ticket if they are experiencing difficulties connecting to the WiFi. Problems may be due to a variety of complications, such as a malfunction with the device. Microwaves, cordless phones and wireless printers can all interfere with WiFi signals.

In areas where more than one student is experiencing difficulties an access point could be overwhelmed. The system is monitored, but there is a possibility that parts of the signal can appear as though they are functioning correctly when they are not. In this case Noble stresses notifying IT of the problem so that it can be properly addressed.

“If students are having trouble, let us know,” Foss said. “We’re here to help.”


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