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Wednesday, December 23, 2015 - 9:36am

A major upgrade to the campus wireless network is providing Wi-Fi coverage in more areas of campus, along with improved reliability and greater capacity.

The project was two years in the making, and Information Technology Services recently finished installing approximately 8,500 wireless access points (APs) on campus; previously there were about 3,200. The overhaul expanded coverage in high-density areas and extended coverage to almost every place people study, work, or congregate.

“The number of devices using campus Wi-Fi increased by over one-third in the 2014–15 academic year,” says Jason Mueller, a network architect in ITS Network Services. “We now peak at over 25,000 concurrent users on the Wi-Fi system.”

Campus APs were optimized for classrooms and auditoriums, enabling faculty to more confidently experiment with new, interactive teaching techniques that rely on Wi-Fi. In addition, most residence hall rooms now have their own AP.

As each building on campus received its wireless makeover, occupants reported better service. Issues with wireless had been one of the more common start-of-school inquiries the ITS Help Desk received, but this year only a handful of customers reported having trouble.

Technology-wise, the new system has numerous advantages, including support for IPv6 (the next version of Internet Protocol addressing), and 802.11ac. The 802.11ac standard is the latest Wi-Fi access protocol, providing greater speeds, improved reliability, and better power management for user devices.

A new “band-steering” feature encourages devices to use the 5 GHz radio frequency band instead of the 2.4 GHz band. This provides more bandwidth to Wi-Fi clients and reduces problems from interference. On the previous system, only about 50% of clients were using the 5 GHz band. Approximately 75% of clients are using 5 GHz on the new system.

The upgrade also helps position the UI to support VoIP (i.e. Skype) over Wi-Fi in the future.

IT professionals continue to tweak configurations of the new system, but expect to wrap up by spring. The next focus will be outdoor Wi-Fi coverage—spaces like Hubbard Park, the Pentacrest, and the T. Anne Cleary Walkway.

Completing a project of this scale required tremendous collaboration. The vendor of the new system, Aruba Networks, was integral to the transition. The ITS Network Services and Physical Infrastructure workgroups were essential to the process, and colleagues in several units played key roles coordinating the changes, testing and evaluating the system, and documentation.