Wireless connections prove clunky, trip up students

The University of Oregon’s clogged and clunky wireless system is a shock to many students.

Campuses have struggled to keep up with the demand for Wi-Fi.

The predicament began in the fall of 2011, when the demand for Wi-Fi connections on campus began outstripping the bandwidth the UO provides.

The Eugene Register-Guard reports the shortage of capacity is a potential multimillion dollar problem for the school.

Weak, slow or broken connections aren’t unusual, students say. Demand spikes at the beginning of fall, winter and spring terms.

The university devoted $660,000 to tackle the first of these issues — maintaining connections — by the end of this year.

The student population has soared by 40 percent, to 24,500, since 2000, when only 60 people had signed on to the campus wireless system. The system has failed to keep up.

On the third day of classes, for example, freshman Caitlin Dieni had needed to print her assignments but couldn’t get to them because the wireless system wouldn’t connect.

Dieni picked up her smartphone and tweeted her exasperation: “ALL I WANT TO DO IS CONNECT TO THE FREAKING INTERNET. OMG. I FREAKING HATE UO WIRELESS. #havehomework #needinternet”

“Watching TV and movies on a WiFi device, that is at most five years old. Those take a lot of bandwidth,” said Professor Andrzej Proskurowski of the UO computer science department.

See page 2 for more on the campus-based “device explosion”…

It’s a “device explosion,” according to EDUCAUSE, the Colorado-based association representing higher education chief information officers. Bandwidth congestion is the No. 1 problem that IT officials face on campuses across the country, according to the organization’s annual survey.

“Take your lawn irrigation system in the neighborhood,” Proskurowski said. “It’s warm, and everybody is watering their lawns and the pressure drops.

“That’s what you experience on the first day of school when everybody wants to register, check this and check that, send an email to Mama — ‘I arrived and I’m fine’ — and there is limited capacity of the pipe of the Wi-Fi,” he said.

Any surge in demand for any limited resource causes problems, Proskurowski said. “All of a sudden the thing comes to a grinding halt. That’s the story.”

Much of the talk at the annual EDUCAUSE conference in Anaheim, Calif., centered around how college technologists should deal with the massive influx of wireless mobile devices flooding campuses of every size.

From tablets to smartphones to web-connected video game consoles, campus Wi-Fi networks are feeling the strain of a veracious appetite among students for high-speed internet, particularly for video.

Some IT officials told eCampus News editors at EDUCAUSE 2013 that they would do whatever it took to provide constant high-speed Wi-Fi for students since it’s no longer considered a luxury like it once was.

Nearly 100 percent of those who responded to a recent survey said they own at least one digital device. Laptops are the most common, with 93 percent of students saying they own one, but smart phones were prevalent too, with 78 percent of respondents saying they own the devices.

Thirty-five percent of students own tablets. Last year, that number was just seven percent.

And students are on these devices constantly, according to the survey. Close to 70 percent of students said they use three or more devices a day, and 47 percent said they check these devices every 10 minutes.