Campus Wi-Fi: for some students an everyday convenience, but for others the source of a constant headache. In recent weeks, students have complained of inaccessible and unreliable Wi-Fi on campus, particularly in the Administration Building and Cuddy Hall. Experiences with the wireless network range from minor annoyances to grade threatening events, according to students impacted by the problem.
“The Wi-Fi occasionally forgets to serve authentication pages. It alternates between always logging you out if you momentarily disconnect, and leaving you signed in all day,” said Pat Brooker, a sophomore majoring in psychology.
Brooker’s comments are similar to many of the issues that people have been experiencing. Problems like this seem to be common among the student body with complaints varying from inaccessibility to slow network speeds.
With so many complaints it can be difficult to determine the source of the problem. Most complaints seem to be centered on the inability to consistently connect to the wireless network. Though problems have recently been reported around the Admin. Building and Cuddy Hall, the issue seems to be wide spread around campus.
“The wireless here is terrible”, said Christopher Evans, a Resident Advisor for North Hall. “It seems like there are peak hours during the day where you just can’t connect.”
Richard Whitney, Vice Provost of IT Services, explained that many of the problems could be attributed to high usage of the network.
“I think that in the Anchorage campus, we are seeing a dramatic increase in number of connections to the wireless network. We track the number of people connected at any given time. Last semester usage peaked around 1500 devices, but this semester we’re seeing a peak of 2500 devices connecting to the wireless network. The network is very dynamic, we never know exactly how many connections to expect.”
Whitney went on to explain a significant portion of the increase could be due to smart phones with wireless capabilities.
“Phone devices have increased tremendously over the past 18 months but laptops still represent the largest usage. The system is designed to accommodate high usage, but in many cases we are at capacity.”
Inaccessibility can be a real problem for students who count on Internet access on a daily basis. For students on a tight schedule with little time to submit assignments, connectivity problems can be a real setback.
“It’s just unreliable,” complained Shelby Thorpe, a freshman environmental science major. “It’s a real problem when you have an assignment or test due and the Internet fails.”
While many students worry that recent Internet changes designed to combat copyright violations may be the cause of Wi-Fi problems, Whitney says that the two are unrelated.
“The changes had nothing to do with the wireless network, they only affect the wired networks in the residence halls,” explained Whitney.
Though attempts to reduce copyright violations have not caused problems with the wireless network, they have proven fairly successful.
“Right now we’re playing Whack-a-mole with copyright violations — we focus on reducing them in one area and they show up in another,” stated Whitney. “But overall the changes have produced a positive result. We’ve been receiving less copyright complaints per month so far.”
Wireless networks can be affected by a variety of factors such as signal blockage, interference and high network usage. These problems are typical of college wireless networks, especially large campuses such as UAA.
“Our main problem has been the unexpected growth but we did experience an issue with the wireless controller in the Cuddy Hall,” said Whitney. “We’ve also had reports of problems with access in the Engineering and Admin building, but those problems were due to capacity.”
Whitney urges students who have experienced a problem with the network to contact IT Services as soon as possible.
“The best thing to do is report the complaint immediately so we can check for issues. If we don’t know about a problem then it will be difficult to address it. We just need to stay a step or two ahead of the demand.”