ITS expands wireless coverage while bandwidth levels remain the same

Erty Seidel

Upon arriving on campus this year, students living in Colman, Trever and Brokaw Halls noticed that their buildings were equipped with wireless Internet service, and this past week Plantz Hall also gained service.
According to User Services Manager Dana Rose-Schmalz of Information Technology Services, Lawrence is moving forward with a plan to extend this service to all dorms.
Steve Armstrong, director of ITS, explained Lawrence’s new wireless capabilities. “Our eventual goal is to have complete, campus-wide coverage, even outdoors,” said Armstrong, “but we probably won’t [put wireless] in any more dorms this year.”
According to Armstrong, the main restrictions have been budget limitations and existing infrastructure. For example, this past summer workers had to drill a new wiring conduit through all seven floors of Kohler Hall in anticipation of the new technology.
Lawrence has spent about $60,000 on the wireless initiative, purchasing enterprise-class wireless nodes that support all the current wireless transmission formats. Each node cost around $600.
Ryan Kessler, a sophomore who lives in Brokaw, praised the new wireless, saying, “It’s nice, though it was fiddly in the beginning.”
Zach Prior, another sophomore from Brokaw, added that he has had a very good experience with the wireless so far.
Residents of wireless-enabled halls should note that they can no longer use their own wi-fi routers, as the signal will interfere with the Lawrence wireless. According to their website, ITS will actively be working to find and remove sources of wireless interference.
Armstrong reiterated this point during an interview, saying, “If your neighbor has their own access point, it’s going to interfere… and make everyone’s wireless slower.” Wired Ethernet use is still permitted and may even allow for faster speeds.
Even though Lawrence might have more access points, campus bandwidth is becoming scarce. Lawrence has 100 Mbps – megabits per second – of bandwidth for the entire campus to share, and Lawrentians are starting to hit that cap regularly, said Armstrong.
“We’re aggressively investigating our options,” said Armstrong, “but it means we’ll have to replace a lot of our equipment.”
Armstrong pointed out, “It really comes down to budget.” He noted that the school already increased the bandwidth from just 65 Mbps to its current level of 100 Mbps in January 2010.
Much of campus is wired to receive up to gigabit speeds – 1000 Mbps – but the cost to actually deliver that bandwidth is much higher than the allotted budget.
One sophomore expressed frustration with the current Internet speeds. “It’s really annoying when I have to, say, load a YouTube video, and the Internet is too slow. Sometimes I have to sit around for 15 minutes or half an hour to watch one.”
Julian Delfino ’13 in Kohler expressed disapproval of the Internet speeds at Lawrence. He jokingly remarked, “They’re making me stay up until midnight to play my games!” Lawrence currently shapes the Internet speeds, allowing academic and regular web browsing before gaming and other leisure activities during peak usage hours.
Across campus, students, staff and faculty wonder about the reasons behind Lawrence’s Internet problems. Even with the huge freshman class, the real culprit is changing media habits.
Sites like YouTube, Hulu and Facebook are using more and more bandwidth to share high-definition media.
“It takes about a month to see where we’re going to be [in terms of bandwidth],” said Armstrong. Tabbed browsing, which encourages people to have more content loading at one time, also contributes to slower internet speed overall.
Hiett, Colman and Trever Halls, as well as the Warch Campus Center are wired with 100 Mbps Ethernet, while most of the remaining dorms are using the old 10 Mbps cabling. Even so, students in the older dorms shouldn’t notice much of a difference in speed when connecting outside Lawrence.
More information about the plans to expand the wireless and campus bandwidth can be found on the ITS website.