College attempts Wi-Fi improvement

Rebecca Jordan

ITS has made several upgrades to the internet and Wi-Fi systems over the summer due to increasing student use.

“The more [devices] you allow, the more they want, and the more they want to bring. The more bandwidth you throw at them, the more they eat it right up. It’s a constant improvement cycle,” said John Brennan, chief information officer.

According to numbers provided by the ITS department, in a 24-hour period, campus experiences an average of 8,000 mobile devices connecting to its network. This figure does not include laptops, only devices running on mobile operating systems. And that number is only increasing.

This time last year, there was an average of 872 active connections at any given time. This year, however, that number is at about 1,358. Because of the ever-increasing need for greater Wi-Fi speed and saturation, ITS has been working on meeting the needs of students and faculty.

Adding and upgrading routers:
During the fall 2015 semester, the college was in the process of doubling the bandwidth, or speed of Wi-Fi, across campus, increasing it from 2.4 to 5 gigahertz (GHz). Most devices made in the last four years or so can support the 5 GHz connection.

“The 5 ghz signals can penetrate walls and barriers a lot better than the 2.4 ghz can, so you get a lot more saturation with the same number of routers and access points,” said Brennan.

There were also an additional hundred routers installed to add to the over three hundred already in use as well as replacements to old routers. The new routers can support both 2.4 and 5 GHz connections so that the older devices can still connect on campus.

According to Brennan, that project is about 80 percent completed and should be finished by next month.

Dividing the internet path:
During the last academic year, the college experienced two internet outages that were outside its control. One was due to an underground fire; the other was the result of a fiber cable that was dug up in someone’s backyard.

The college decided that it needed to have internet coming in from two different paths: one from the north and the other from the south. Both paths are capable of carrying the internet needs of the entire campus in the event that one goes down.
“If Farmer Joe digs up the cable again with his backhoe, we can switch over to the other connection and go the other way to get back to where we need to be,” said Brennan.

The switch from one path to another is not automatic yet, but will be in a few weeks. Until then, if the internet goes out, it is the simple matter of flipping a switch and making a few configuration changes. However, Brennan says that the switch-over needs to be automatic in case the outage happens when no one is on campus to change the internet path.

Outdoor routers:
One complaint students have about the Wi-Fi is that there is no seamless connection when they travel from one building to another. ITS has been working on giving students access to this wireless perk.

The entire outdoor network of access points is installed except for one router, but it is not fully lit up yet because there is need for more testing. However, the quads outside BTC and Brahan get a connection from outdoor access points right now.
These outdoor routers can handle up to 480 active connections at one time as opposed to the 316 that indoor routers can support.

“The indoor routers don’t need to support as many connections at once because there are more of them. We achieve the density we need just by adding more access points,” said Brennan.

ITS has added several access points in some outdoor locations as well because of the high concentration of students in those areas.

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