Is Laurier wireless any faster?

As students and faculty increasingly continue to bring more electronic devices to school, discussion over the quality of the wireless connection at Wilfrid Laurier University has been a major concern for the past few years.

Announced in late August, WLU’s Information Technology Services (ITS) expanded its wireless coverage to various different spots on campus.

“We have a tremendous amount of work to do to update the technical infrastructure at the university,” explained Tom Buckley, assistant vice president: academic services.

“Students made it very clear to us that wireless, the state of the wireless system is something they were not satisfied with.”

Buckley noted the approximately 40 per cent of the network switches on campus have been replaced.

The improved technology — which was done with funding from the university, the Wilfrid Laurier University Students’ Union (WLUSU) and PRISM labs — was placed in some areas such as the Concourse, 24-Hour lounge, Peters and Schlegel buildings.

This was done by ITS to help increase reliability, connectivity as well as speed.

“Our core mandate is to support technology as it relates to the teaching and learning environment. But now students bring multiple devices; smart phones, tablets and laptops,” continued Buckley. “And they are used for a combination of personal use and academic use. We zeroed in on areas where they tended to frequently use technology and devices.”

Reviewing the connection

There have been mixed reactions from students on the improved wireless coverage, where some state it is better and where some say it’s the same as previous years.

“Other years it’s such a hassle and I just want to go home, but this year it’s been good,” said Robyn Hobbs, a fourth-year business and environmental studies student, who was studying at the time in the Concourse.

On the other side, some students in the Concourse visibly frustrated with the state of the Internet connection. Mike Paolini, a second-year business student, told The Cord that he doesn’t notice much of a difference from last year.

“I can’t tell right now to be honest. It’s pretty slow right now,” said Paolini.

Feeling similarly to Paolini, third-year business student Sunny Trochaniak, said, “It’s been this bad since first year.”

“I don’t know how else to describe it though, it’s terrible. I’m in three different classes and I can’t connect to any of them,” continued Trochaniak, noting that those three classes were all in the Peters building.

Since he’s been having so much trouble getting connections, Trochaniak started to use his smart phone as a wireless hot spot in case he needed to access the Internet in class.

The Cord went to various spots on campus to test the reliability of the wireless connection, once in the evening when traffic was lower and once during the day when traffic was denser.

Almost every place on campus appeared to be a lot stronger during the evening, but once it came to earlier hours in the day, when numerous students were studying in these areas, the connections were troublesome.

One place on campus that appeared to be consistently weaker was the library, where connecting to the wireless was inconsistent and unreliable, no matter what point of day it was and how many people were in the building.

A higher density

Using an analogy of rainfall and a sewer system, Buckley mentioned that the higher use of laptops and internet usage on campus will put more strain on the system, therefore resulting in more laboured performance.

“If the library was full of people, everyone trying to download three videos at the same time, that’s the data equivalent of a monsoon rain in Waterloo,” said Buckley. “Will wireless at Laurier provide the same speed that you’ll get from a dedicated landline connection at your apartment when you’re downloading three movies at a time? No. We’re not going to make that level of commitment.”

While some improvements to wireless coverage have been made to some parts on campus, not every building or room has yet to receive an improvement and, according to Buckley, the process is still an on-going.

“It’s going to serve the students much better but we’ll be continuously doing a reality check on that, and we’ll be engaging the student communities and the student leaders to find out if we got it right,” concluded Buckley. “If we need more, we have to have that conversation around what we do about this stuff so that teaching and learning can continue and not be interrupted.”