Wireless unplugged

Every student on the campus of Wilfrid Laurier University seems to have something to say about access to or the quality of the university’s wireless Internet access. Tuesday afternoon, the science building atrium was filled with laptop-toting students and the general sense was that Laurier Wi-Fi wasn’t working much at all.

“I’m down here because up where the independent study areas are there is pretty horrible [wireless] reception,” Tyler White, a first-year biology student said as he tried in vain to check his email from the atrium. “I came down here to try and get a better connection.”

White said during his time at Laurier he’s experienced problems with connecting to the network elsewhere on campus. “I went so far as to purchase a network cable because I noticed that there’s plugs where you can plug in but none of them that I’ve tried work,” he said, pulling a blue cable from his bag before leaving to do work at Starbucks. “I was hoping I could just plug it in and skip this wireless.”

Manager of infrastructure and network security Richard Godsmark explained that the university installed more access points for the wireless network over the summer, but certain areas aren’t adequately served and it takes time to adjust to demand. “Bricker Academic is one example, we’ve had some struggles there. We’re adding access points there, same over in SBE,” he said.

Assistant vice president of academic services at Laurier Tom Buckley explained that with more students than ever before bringing devices to campus that access the “Laurier Wi-Fi” and “Laurier Wireless” designated networks, the load on the system predominantly contributes to performance issues.

“We have some work to do in terms of matching student demand in certain geographic areas, time of day and what have you,” Buckley said. “That will be an ongoing process.”

“The science atrium and the concourse are two areas where we want to invest heavily,” he continued. “The library is another, to ensure that large numbers of students connecting in the library are able to get decent upload and download speeds.”

Godsmark said that each of the current wireless access points has a recommended performance threshold of 30 simultaneous users. “An access point only has so much bandwidth it can process through it,” he said. “You can have more than 30 users on an access point but performance can degrade pretty significantly pretty quickly.”

He said that the science atrium currently has two access points. “Could it do with a third or fourth? Maybe,” he speculated. With the additional access points added over the summer, Godsmark said the total number was likely “up in the hundreds” campus-wide.

According to Buckley, the wired network that underlies wireless connections has been upgraded and will continue to be. “Earlier this term we quadrupled the size of the total Internet connection in and out of the university,” he said, adding that the Brantford campus still runs all Internet traffic through Waterloo. Once Brantford is given its own Internet connection, performance should improve at both campuses.

Godsmark is currently examining options for upgrading the wireless network, including more substantial access points to allow more simultaneous connections. He mentioned the possibility of new wireless technology that is currently rolling out in the U.S. using the former analogue television wavelengths for Wi-Fi signal, a technology that is better at penetrating buildings.

“All I’d say is that I think wireless is going to be a lot better coming soon, it’s just that we’re trying to catch up with the explosion.”

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Testing was conducted on an Apple MacBook Pro using Mozilla Firefox and speedtest.org.

Download and upload speed were tested early in the morning Sunday, Nov. 7 and at peak times Monday, Nov. 8. Tests were run twice for each location and averaged for consistency. The wireless card and browser were restarted between locations.