Campus News

Students get their Wi-Fi fix(ed)

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Bethel students are getting what they asked for. Well…maybe one of the things they’ve asked for: a Wi-Fi upgrade. Last week, Bethel’s Information Technology staff announced via MyBethel that over the summer, they will be upgrading Bethel’s Wi-Fi system to better serve students. The announcement on MyBethel, posted on April 4, began as follows: “The Information Technology Department is happy to announce that this summer we will be replacing our current Wi-Fi equipment with a more robust system from Aerohive Networks.  This new system will expand our current campus coverage and will have the most current wireless technology available, which is the new AC band.” Todd Lemons, director of infrastructure services at Bethel, told me, via email, that the process for selecting the new vendor took about 8 months given research and testing. Lemons also gave me a few more details about exactly what is changing. “We will be changing out over 221 access points across campus and will expand to just over 400,” wrote Lemons. These changes are being made to stop signal dropping across campus, especially in places where the Wi-Fi has been notoriously unreliable, such as large group rooms like the Dining Commons, Wiekamp Athletic Center, Sufficient Grounds, and the Everest-Rohrer auditorium. Lemons also believes that the increased number of access points will lead to a greater Internet speed. “Our current internet speed is 300 megabits per second,” he wrote. “This was increased from 200 last spring and 100 two years before that.  We also now have caching services that include Netflix and Amazon Web Services which host many websites through our provider that does not count against our current speed offering.  We expect students will see a speed increase simply by the access points being able to handle more traffic.  We have plenty of speed available and we do not max out our current 300 mbps service, our current system is just congested and cannot handle more traffic.” Another change affects those with Wi-Fi devices like Smart TVs and gaming consoles. In the past, these users have had to register their devices with Information Technologies who would then give them access to a special MAC server for those devices. “Our new system has a self-registration feature,” wrote Lemons. “Students will be able to connect and obtain their own private network key.  This can be put in your devices (up to 5).  You will no longer need to contact the Help Desk to connect your game or streaming devices.  For the first time we will be able to also support student wireless printers.  We have not been able to do this on the old system.  We will also be able to support all popular streaming devices. This comes as welcome news to students who find the current Wi-Fi system frustrating. “It’s not always reliable,” said Breanna Hendershot, worship arts major. “It boots you off at random times and it’s just not convenient when you’re trying to work on stuff online.” “It sucks,” said Nate Hawley, Christian ministries major, quite bluntly. “It’s really inconsistent per area and … I don’t like to keep my data on, because I don’t want to use up data, so I want my Wi-Fi to be continuous, and so that sucks.” Granted, not all students find it quite so frustrating. “Personally, I’m not as critical of it,” said piano performance major Joel Lininger. “I don’t think it’s completely awful. But I will say that living out in Manges first floor, it can be interrupted sometimes, but I don’t think I’ve experienced as many problems as other people have.” When asked about what changes they feel could be made, there seemed to be a pretty well established consensus. “Consistency is definitely something that could be beneficial for students and staff members alike,” said Hendershot. “I’m excited to see the improvements, hopefully, to both the normal Wi-Fi and the MAC Wi-Fi for my Roku that I use,” said Hawley. The cost for all these changes is estimated to be around $300,000. “These are special units that cannot operate independently and require network controllers,” wrote Lemons.  “You also have yearly maintenance and support fees for the system.  This is a very significant campus expense, but also quite necessary.” The old policy regarding students having their own modems in order to bypass the campus system still stands: “We will not allow students to have their own modems or wireless access points in the rooms,” wrote Lemons. “This would cause significant issues with our wifi system.  Modern commercial wifi systems will find these devices and block them from obtaining broadcast channels.” The installation is planned to begin after the spring semester and May term have finished, so the system will be online at the start of the 2016-2017 school year. So here’s to a stronger Wi-Fi system on campus. May our signals be strong and our data usage low.
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