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24 August 2014

Wi-Fi access points increase in residential colleges

WirelessCanes – which, in students’ minds, is synonymous with wireless Internet on campus – has often been the butt of students’ jokes.

“I didn’t get wireless service in my room, and my roommates got spotty service,” junior Matthew Smith said. “I just used Ethernet all year in my room.”

That might come to an end soon, when the university triples the amount of wireless access points (APs) on the Coral Gables campus this month. Residents in the dorms will see the most significant change.

Stewart Seruya, assistant vice president of IT infrastructure, said there will be a tenfold increase in APs in the residential colleges, which will gain nearly 3,000 new devices.

“We’re about to put wireless in every single residential room,” he said. “That’s a complete change in our model.”

All residents have had wired Internet connections in their rooms since 1997, and wireless Internet became available on campus in 2001.

“It’s not like we didn’t have good wireless,” Seruya said. “This is just giving us better wireless. Students can have virtually unlimited devices connected, and they’re going to hopefully have substantially better wireless Internet than they would at home.”

Seruya explained that technology on campus goes through “a constant refresh.” Although this is a significant upgrade, the typical IT strategy involves minor technology updates and fine-tuning.

Even the communal bathrooms in the Hecht and Stanford residential colleges will be gaining APs. Seruya said this was not an unreasonable request from students because they like to stream music while they’re in the shower.

Requests came from surveys, students and Student Government (SG) liaisons last year.

Last year’s IT liaisons within SG’s Campus Liaison Council, Joseph Choi and Niurka Monteserin, made UMIT aware of student concerns about wireless connectivity issues after former SG President Bhumi Patel issued a survey to the student body.

We decided to tackle several specific issues, including a multiple-authentication request issue which made connecting to SecureCanes difficult, poor connectivity in the newly opened UC Patio and SAC regions, and dropped connections in the Mahoney-Pearson residential colleges,” Choi said.

The new devices being deployed in the rooms didn’t exist a year ago, according to Seruya. They are physically more compact, and they minimize interference by allowing individuals to adjust the signal strength so the frequencies don’t overlap.

Senior Mateja Kalajian, who has encountered wireless issues on campus in the past, was glad to hear about the upgrades.

“I think it’s a good idea, especially given the outrageous amount of tuition we pay to go to this school,” Kalajian said.

The new APs will be installed in the dorms over the next few weeks – hopefully sometime by mid-September, according to Seruya.

“The only reason it wasn’t added sooner is because it simply doesn’t exist,” he said.

The university will be receiving the devices in batches of 1,000 and installing them as they come in. IT will work with Housing and Residential Life during the process to make sure that students are aware of the installation schedule.

“Technicians will need to enter student rooms to install the wireless node, but will be doing so under supervision to ensure the security of students’ belongings,” Seruya said.

Installation should take about 15 minutes per room, according to Seruya.

When students take advantage of this wireless upgrade, the university encourages them connect to WiFi using SecureCanes because it has an unlimited capacity and never times out.

WirelessCanes, which is meant for guests on campus, has fewer features. Referring to all of wireless Internet on campus as WirelessCanes is a misnomer.

“People think, ‘Maybe I’ll get better service with one or the other,’” Seruya said. “But it’s all the same antenna.”

Senior Mattan Comay, who is living in Mahoney for the third year, used to think “WirelessCanes was the worst.” He’s having a better experience at the start of this semester.

“Sometimes I would plug in my Ethernet because it would work better, and I couldn’t get SecureCanes working until literally yesterday – not at all last year,” Comay said. “So far, no WiFi problems now, though, so that’s a plus.”