NU wi-fi upgraded yet some problems persist

Norwich University has invested a lot of time and more than $5 million dollars into upgrading the campus’ Wi-Fi network, but students still face some issues regarding the network’s strength and coverage capabilities.

Since this summer, Norwich has been working on a major network upgrade, with the purpose of improving the quality of Wi-Fi connection on campus, according to the members of the Information Technology Department (IT).

“Thanks to this project, more than 650 access points have been upgraded across campus,” said Frank Moore, the chief information officer at Norwich. An access point (AP) is a hardware device that allows wireless devices to connect to the network. By increasing the number of APs, and by improving the distribution, more users can get on a single access point without degrading the service and slowing it down.

According to the IT department staff, in order to keep current with the ever-growing demand for network service, the university favored supporting the network via an operational lease, which allows for renewal of innovation and technological transformation, at the end and beginning of each lease term.

“The university is going through a major network refresh,” explained the Director of User Services & University Outreach at Norwich, Joseph Morvan. “Part of that refresh was recalibrating our wireless environment.” Thanks to this project, previous complaints about the slowness of the WiFi, and the interruption of the connection, will be soon solved, he said.

The main priorities are the residence halls and the barracks, due to the high density and constant use of the connection by students.

Numerous access points have also been added to academic spaces and some administrative buildings, such as Jackman Hall, but also in the Kreitzberg Arena. “Where the signal is not as strong is outside the buildings, and in the green spaces,” Moore said.

The outdoor spaces represent the primary obstacle. Some replacements are needed because of some issues with mounting brackets, therefore, the connection outside the buildings is inconstant, for now.

The majority of the network project is completed; however, the staff of the IT department is going back with a “punch list” to finish the last details of the job, according to Moore.

The overall network upgrade costs a total of more than $5 million dollars. “The project is very expensive. We are talking about $1.4 million dollars per year, for the next five years,” Morvan explained.

The university is funding the entire cost of the project. The technology fee that students pay every semester, in fact, only covers labs, computers, Office 365 applications, and virtual desktops. Consequently, the financial impact on students is minimal since the overall money to finance the project is deducted from the University General Fund.

The IT department has been working hard in order to offer a high-quality WiFi connection, which is necessary in the academic environment. With the use of Nuoodle, the Norwich open source course management system, an effective wireless connection on campus is crucial, especially from a student perspective. Also, Norwich is considered a high-tech campus and a lot of student work is required to be completed online. “Like everybody else here on campus, I am connected to the Wi-Fi 24/7,” said Carly Menges, 20, a junior health science major from Cleveland, Ohio. “Multiple hours at night, I will be doing homework on Nuoodle, and usually, I will have to use it for classes during the day.”

Online classes, discussions, searching for references, titles, articles, and journals, keeping an open and direct communication with professors: Those are just few of the many tasks that underline the necessity of the Internet connection, in particular for students.

Despite the network upgrade, several students complained about the wireless connectivity at N.U. Most of the critiques concern the inconstant and poor quality of the connection. “It randomly cuts down while I am doing homework. The Internet just shuts down,” Menges said. These malfunctions cause many inconveniences to students, both with the use of laptops and smart phones.

“I had the Wi-Fi disconnected on my computer while I was taking a test on Nuoodle for my class. It closed down everything, while the timer was still running,” said Teresa Segreti, 22, a senior athletic training major from Salisbury Mills, N.Y.

On Nuoodle, most of the assignments, and tests, have time-lines. When students have to submit something last minute, they risk running out of time because the page is not loading, and the Wi-Fi is not connecting.

“I have to take online quizzes for one of my classes. If the quiz starts at 10 a.m., and I try to open the page but the Wi-Fi takes five minutes to connect, then I will have five minutes less to take the test,” Menges said.

In addition, as far as it concerns job applications or internships, many companies request Skype interviews, which can be a struggle, if not impossible, when the Wi-Fi connection does not work properly.

Over time, the education at Norwich has become more and more digital which is why the university needs to keep up with the technological progress and the student community’s needs. Every simple action, from registering for classes, to pay for tuition, to choose a meal plan, is now done online.

Students in the millennium generation, h a v i n g g r o w n up surrounded by smart devices and wireless connection, also rely on Wi-Fi connections and the Internet for their social life and as their link to the outside world.

“The best way to keep in touch with my family and friends from back home, is by using Facetime or Skype. Unfortunately, the connection cannot always support the calls efficiently,” Menges said.

Many students travel a long way to get to Northfield and the only occasion to see friends and family is during breaks. For this reason, it is important to be able to count on the efficacy of the Wi-Fi to communicate during the stay at Norwich.

“The Wi-Fi cutting in and out has made video chatting with my family very difficult,” Segreti said. “I have a very busy schedule, so when I have a few minutes free, and I can finally talk to my friends and family back home, it would be nice not to have to worry about Wi-Fi connection, and focus on what is really important: my family.”

Many students who get irritated by the poor quality of the connection, decide to use their cellular data, risking paying an extra charge for exceeding the monthly data on their devices. “Not everybody can afford to use data all the time,” Menges said. “Especially international students, who, without a Wi-Fi connection, are forced to text internationally, which is very expensive.”

The IT department said it is well aware of the students’ needs, and it is trying its best to solve the situation. “We understand. Being in Northfield, Vermont, in the middle of nowhere, your only window to the world, sometimes, it is just through social media,” Morvan said.

Part of the IT staff’s job consists of understanding the needs and the issues of the Norwich community, and to fix them. This is the reason why the IT department is cooperating with the Student Government Association (SGA) to improve the Wi-Fi situation. “We have always tried to have a liaison with the SGA, so we can have a better pulse of where students are with technology,” Morvan said.

Even though connections on campus have not reached the expectations wanted by students, many problems that used to occur have been solved. In The Guidon in the Feb. 6, 2014 issue, students reported that closing the doors of the dorms would block the Wi-Fi connection from getting into the rooms. Thanks to the network upgrade, this inconvenience has been solved. “Because of some instances where if you close your door you lost the signal, we started to put some access point directly in the ports of the rooms, to increase that service,” explained Morvan.

He added that there is a misconception that wireless is always going to be dependable, “and it is not,” Morvan said. However, the IT Department will continue to make upgrades and to make sure that the efficacy of the firewall settings allows device applications to communicate within the environment.

Meanwhile, Morvan notes that most of the time when there is a problem with the wireless connection, the issue is with the devices and not the network. “Nine times out of ten, we are finding that it is generally a result of the devices not being updated, or the software patch being applied to the device itself,” Morvan said.

He also added that students can often improve their service in a simple way. The number of the devices connected influences the quality of the connection, he said. “Usually, the typical student, will have three to five devices going on the network at the same time,” Moore said. The more devices connected simultaneously, the more the AP gets overloaded.

The IT Department emphasized the importance of the communication between students and the Help Desk service. Often, when students have issues with electronic devices or wireless connection, they exclusively talk among themselves, without consulting the Help Desk.

“We only know what we are advised of, and we can only look into what we are informed of,” Morvan said. “We highly encourage people to contact us, or the Help Desk, when they have problem with the connection.”

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