University’s Wi-Fi: A Strong Foundation that Could Use Some Upgrades
By Justin Kresse
This newspaper was approached in December by students expressing frustration with the campus Wi-Fi network stability and availability across campus. In order to give the whole picture, we conducted several interviews with members of the IT department, the Provost and a Student Government Association (SGA) senator who has focused specifically on this issue, as well as sent out a survey to resident students. This issue is important to all of the Adelphi community in our modern world that relies so heavily on the internet for communication and productivity.
It was only several years ago that wireless internet started to become crucial for the greater Adelphi community and Adelphi’s IT department installed their first Wi-Fi system in the early 2000s. Since then, the university has made significant efforts to upgrade the network with modern and even state-of-the-art technology. Today, that commitment remains. However, as Fred Hicks, Director of Infrastructure, said, issues with staffing, product availability and the budget—many resulting from the Covid pandemic—have slowed the upgrade process and there are certain areas where the community desires significant improvement.
Currently, Adelphi uses a sophisticated internet system throughout its four campuses. The Wi-Fi network itself uses over 500 access points throughout each location, working together to allow students to connect to wherever they are on campus, including Swirbul Library, the Center for Recreation & Sports or even the parking lot. Hicks called the network “high performance, very robust and very resilient.”
Out of the hundreds of access points, he said a majority of them use what is called Wi-Fi 5, a relatively modern technology that still provides high performance throughout. In the library and now the University Center, newer access points have been installed that support the newest Wi-Fi 6 technology, even though it is not actually in use because most client-side devices don’t yet support the Wi-Fi 6 protocol. When they did enable Wi-Fi 6 last year, users experienced more problems connecting and staying connected.
However, most technology should gradually adopt this new Wi-Fi protocol in the next few years so that soon it can be turned back on. The university also still uses older Wi-Fi 4 access points in some of the older areas, which still work fine for light Wi-Fi requirements.
Carol Ann Boyle, Chief Information Officer, said, “There’s some aspects [of the network] that will have some older equipment out there, but if it still works and it’s still patched up and secure, I’m going to use it.”
With the current network system used by Adelphi, there are many modern technologies in use. One of the most important is the network’s reliance on redundancies. For instance, if one wireless access point were to go down, the system would tell the other access points nearby to cover the lost signal. Another technology Adelphi’s network uses is a redundancy link from the internet service provider so that if one internet hookup link goes down, the network traffic can be rerouted through the other link. Another technology Also used is a content delivery network, which essentially scans all downloads on the network to see if there are any repeated ones, such as an IOS update or even a Super Bowl live stream that many people will be downloading. The system then caches that content onto its local server to redeliver to other users who want that same download, rerouting the network traffic to make things run smoothly.
Unfortunately, as with almost anything relating to technology, the Wi-Fi on campus is not perfect. Problems with users’ specific computer devices and their software can affect their ability to connect. (If you’re having trouble connecting, you could try updating your device network drivers, which could improve performance or even solve an inability to connect.) Also, host servers can have problems of their own, such as Amazon Web Service’s (AWS) web service’s problems last month, an issuea fact that Adelphi has no control over.
Still, there are improvements that Adelphi can work towards. In The Delphian survey sent out recently to select resident students through the Resident Student Association, 92.9 percent of the 14 respondents said they were not satisfied with the Wi-Fi on campus. One of the respondents said, “Considering we are a school campus that relies heavily on online work and technology, you’d think the Wi-Fi would be better.”
Another respondent, senior Carla Crump, said, “I feel like it’s hard in the old dorms to connect to Wi-Fi specifically.”
Boyle said IT is aware of the poor Wi-Fi connection in the older dorms. “Earle Hall is the top location in terms of calls to the IT help desk regarding Wi-Fi issues, and other older halls like Chapman and Eddy also have issues because of their age,” she said. The older buildings were designed with materials that block some Wi-Fi signals.
Hicks said, “We’ve got enough funding to start looking at it and probably enough to [upgrade] one, one-and-a-half [buildings]. It really depends on the technology that we think would best fit in that space.”
They are planning to take a look at Earle Hall—hopefully over the summer—to see what can be done to improve the Wi-Fi stability throughout the building—hopefully by upgrading the technology.
There are other buildings on campus that could also use upgrades. For instance, in the survey, 42.9 percent of the respondents said the University Center has the worst Wi-Fi coverage. Unfortunately, Covid-19 has slowed down progress, allowing IT to only focus on the one building for more significant upgrades. As Provost and Executive Vice President Chris Storm said, “Everyone has reduced budgets and has sought ways to do things as efficiently as possible.”
Supply chain issues and staffing shortages have also been problematic, but Storm said the university is trying to recruit more staff.
Chris Sciortino, an SGA representative and first-year student, has met with both Hicks and Boyle to discuss improvements to the Wi-Fi and has conducted testing of Wi-Fi access across campus, going through many of the buildings on campus and running network speed tests. However, there’s only so much IT can do with their current budget and other restrictions.
“I will continue to work with the SGA and IT department here at Adelphi to keep the WiFi operating at its best,” Sciortino said. “There is only so much that can be done without the voices of the Adelphi community. If you want to see a change to anything, you need to make your voices heard.”
The most important thing for the Adelphi community to know is that the IT department is still committed to helping students who are having issues. First-year student Vaishnavi Dixit responded in the resident student survey, saying, “When needed, I am able to get assistance from IT tech support, which is so helpful. I just wish that it didn't have to get to that point.”
If you are having trouble connecting to the network or know of a place with a poor connection, contact the IT help desk and give them as much information as possible about the location and what is wrong. Hicks and Boyle both stressed that the Help Desk is a great resource, but students must also be responsive if IT calls back for more information or to schedule a time to look at the problem if it’s in a student’s dorm room.
It really comes down to what the Adelphi community wants. The IT department does a good job of managing individual problems with and maintaining the campus Wi-Fi network, but there are certain bigger issues that they are not able to fully correct right now. However, if the community comes together to express their concerns about the Wi-Fi, then potentially more resources can be devoted to its improvement. As Hicks said, “We can only do as much as community participation will allow us to do.”