Since the school year began, a ubiquitous groan has echoed throughout campus as the University Wi-Fi network, MWireless, seems to regularly disconnect, periodically leaving students and faculty without Internet.
Graphic shows total internet traffic in and out of the University between Aug. 24 and Sept. 24.
Andrew Palms, the University’s executive director of communications systems and data centers, said the connection issues were aggravated over a five-day period roughly a week and a half ago, when the system was going through growing pains.
“The number of connections for Wi-Fi doubled from last year to this year, and generally we expect an increase of about 30- to 40-percent growth in total,” Palms said.
Palms said there was more traffic than the network’s switches and routers could handle. However, after swapping out the central equipment to add more capacity, Palms said problems with slow or even dropped connections should, for the most part, be fixed.
Although the ITS has seemingly fixed the issues plaguing the large group of users, Palms explained that ensuring reliability for all users is not an easy task.
“The Wi-Fi problems aren’t really gone, in the sense that there’s still conflict with devices around campus,” Palms said. “We have about 170 Wi-Fi access points in (Mary Markley Residence Hall), but at the same time, students have brought in around 60 access points, and that causes us a problem because there’s this conflict in use of the spectrum.”
Engineering Prof. Mingyan Liu compared the wireless signal spectrum to a busy conference room, where the users are a group of people who need to talk to each other in that room.
“The more people you pack in that room, the lower the quality of the conversations, for obvious reasons,” Liu said. “The capacity is limited by interference. You can only fit so many people in the room; eventually, you have to find another one.”
LSA freshman Kelly Lewis is one of the many students who use their own wireless network as opposed to the University’s. University Housing prohibits students from creating their own wireless networks from within the dorms.
Nonetheless, Lewis said she prefers to do her homework in her dorm room, which she says has “better Internet.”
At this point, however, Palms said its clear the issue has been alleviated, evidenced by the network’s performance during the launch of Apple’s latest operating system, iOS 7, last week. He said MWireless saw a nearly 25-percent increase in use the day iOS 7 came out, but the University didn’t see any network problems arise as a result.
“It’s really our strong intent to actually meet this demand, because it’s clearly something that people want to have and need to have,” Palms said. “We continue to work to provide the service that folks want to have.”
To figure out a better way to meet users’ needs, the University is currently considering a different model for Wi-Fi funding. As of now, individual buildings and dorms spend their own money to set up wireless modems.
“(The goal for the future) is a different model for funding so that ITS can provide a consistent service across campus so students can walk into virtually any space and get a similar service.”