Campus Wi-Fi access expands along the pedestrian spine

30 April 2019

Travis Boren

[email protected]

    In order to meet a perceived expectation of wireless access everywhere, the Office of Information Technology (OIT)  installed approximately 40 new wireless access points (AP) to expand wireless coverage to outdoor areas.

    The APs were placed to expand coverage for pedestrian traffic and outdoor areas where students, staff or faculty often congregate for events or studying in a first attempt to provide wireless access across the entire campus footprint, according to Cody Ensanian, a wireless network technician with OIT.

    Ensanian’s two-person team, including himself and the Wireless Network Manager Donovan Thorpe, constantly work to improve the quality of campus wireless internet access, but they also wanted to start working to expand wireless access to every part of campus and not just inside the buildings.

    “We really wanted to get a better outdoor presence as well because we understand that there is a lot of opportunity outside the buildings,” said Ensanian.

    He continued that without more feedback from the student body, his team is mostly guessing at what the campus community wants.

    OIT as a whole has increased their efforts to get student feedback from passive channels like email to actively encouraging participation, including an outdoor table event in the El Pomar Plaza on April 25 and a survey result presentation on April 30 from 3-4 p.m. in the El Pomar Center room 107.

    Ensanian described most of the team’s work as reactive because they have a lot to work on each day and it makes it difficult for proactive improvements, but the outdoor wireless expansion is an attempt to be more proactive.

    “We try to budget [being proactive] into the things we do day in and day out,” said Ensanian, noting that one to two more team members would give the team the opportunity to be more proactive. “The Wi-Fi team is looking out for [the community] the best that we can.”

    The team considered students working outdoors and professors who want to take a class outdoors, and wanted to guarantee they could continue using the wireless service.

    “In the general sense of technology and wireless, it’s becoming more and more expected to just have wireless signal kind of everywhere,” said Ensanian.

    The team wanted to expand wireless coverage to the entire campus but found that the resources were more than they could muster in one outing.

    “At the very beginning, we kind of surveyed our whole campus to get a picture of what it would look like to really cover the entire campus,” said Ensanian. “We got an idea of how many access points that would take, what kind of dollar would that look like as a project amount and you can probably assume it’s a pretty big number to cover the whole campus.”

    After coordinating inside OIT, the team settled on approximately 40 new APs, covering the pedestrian spine all the way from the Gallogly Recreation and Wellness Center to Cragmor Hall, the parking lot outside the Academic Office Building, the Alpine Garage Field, common areas near the dorms and the bus stops in front of Centennial.

    The team expects outdoor wireless usage to decrease during inclement weather and the winter but expects usage to increase during every other season.

    “We’ll start to gather data over the next few months, especially into the fall semester and the spring semester as we get nice weather,” said Ensanian. “We’ve already seen the numbers of users go up.”

    The team will be able to use data from the first attempt at outdoor wireless expansion to develop plans for future funding and wireless expansion.

    “Some students have a bit of a walk from their dorms or their apartments to a classroom,” said Ensanian. “So if we can allow them to have good wireless access, even on their phones, [and] if we’re making them a little more productive during their walk, that’s worth it for us.”

    The team is not ignoring the indoor wireless.

    Ensanian said that managing wireless strength is complicated, and gets more complicated indoors because strength can be based on the device accessing it and interference from other wireless technologies or even microwave ovens.

    “If we see a classroom with 200 students, we know one AP will not cover it because 200 people can connect, but everyone will have a really subpar experience,” said Ensanian.

    The number one thing that Ensanian wants is for the community to leave feedback on their wireless experiences with the OIT helpdesk because reports from there go to his team, which gives them the data they need to improve the network.