Malfunctioning outlets, limited portability and tangled wires too short to reach across the room – this is the scene many students grapple with when they try to connect to the Internet in their dorm rooms.
“It would be nice to have wireless and not have to go through all the crap at the beginning of the year when only one outlet plug works and you have to get a hub,” said LSA freshman Ciera Blodgett, who lives in Mary Markley Residence Hall.
But don’t expect wireless coverage anytime soon.
With funding low and other expensive renovations already in the works, University Housing is steering clear of what would be a costly endeavor to outfit the residence hall rooms with wireless Internet access.
Over the next four years, Housing plans to install wireless access in the lounges and study areas of four residence halls. Housing has already started with West Quad and will move on to Mosher-Jordan.
However, while Housing regularly receives requests from students to begin installing wireless in the dorm rooms, funds for such an improvement would come at students’ expense, said Beth Loesch, Housing’s director of information technology.
Each wireless router costs about $1,000, Loesch said.
“We generate our own expense from room and board,” she said. “Right now we can’t justify making the students pay that much more.”
Some students have decided to install their own home wireless routers at the cost of $50 to $100, despite residence hall rules that prohibit them.
Engineering sophomore Jim Stermer has his own wi-fi system in his dorm room. But he said the performance of conventional wireless router is severely limited in its coverage. It is also lacking in security capabilities, because could allow any computer with a wireless card to access his network.
“It’s hard to get a signal one floor above or below me,” Jim said. “Most wireless routers that are used don’t transmit through walls, so the student is limited to their room.”
Another drawback is that the speed of the Internet decreases as more users connect.
Housing prohibits personal routers because if everyone outfitted their room with wireless, the different signals would interfere with each another because of the close proximity between dorm rooms.
“It’s a rotten problem,” Loesch said. “That’s why it’s so important to do a site plan.”
Western Michigan University, which touts one of the most wired campuses in the country, did not install wireless in dorm rooms because of the costs.
“We put wireless in for the lobbies, study areas, but we did not put it in the actual rooms because it would have doubled our costs,” said George Kohrman, assistant director of WMU’s network operations.
But at other universities like Harvard, Dartmouth and Carnegie Mellon, where the majority of students use laptops, wireless Internet is available in the dorms.
Basically a 4 million square-foot wi-fi hotspot, Carnegie Mellon adopted wireless Internet in 1994 and began installing it in its dorms in 2001.
Although it has a much smaller campus than the University, with a total student body of about 10,000, many of the undergraduates live in the 36 dorms, which make up about half of the buildings on the campus, said Lawrence Gallagher, manager of data communications at Carnegie Mellon.
Gallagher would only say it was a fairly expensive endeavor for Carnegie Mellon to outfit the rooms with wireless. Along with the costs of buying the wireless routers, the university also removed utilities from the rooms in order to make way for the installation. But the operation was no more difficult than installing wireless in a typical academic building, he said.
“Doing it in the dorms was a big benefit to the students,” Gallagher said. “We didn’t want them to use their laptops in an academic building or a library and not be able to go home and do their work.”