Campus Wi-Fi Update

Man outside using Wi-Fi

Published September 2013

By Ashley Steves

After six years of hard work, CIT is taking the next step in providing complete Wi-Fi coverage at UB.

“We're happy with the progress so far.”
Jerry Bucklaew, Network Architect
Network and Classroom Services (NCS)

Network and Classroom Services (NCS) will wrap up phase one of the two-phase Wi-Fi Buildout plan this December, a project that initially began in 2007 and has focused on providing Wi-Fi coverage across UB’s three campuses.

During that time, nearly 3,000 wireless access points, devices that allow Wi-Fi devices to connect to a wired network using Wi-Fi, covering 10 million square feet have been installed. UB has seen recent spikes of over 18,000 simultaneous Wi-Fi sessions.

Throughout the course of the project, the team has consisted of two full-time staff members and—at the peak—six full-time electricians pulling wires for the system and working through both public academic buildings and private residence complexes alike.

“We’re happy with the progress so far,” said Jerry Bucklaew, Network Architect with NCS. “But now that we’ve gotten to the end of the project, we need to go back through and do replacements and adjustments for the change in technology and massive explosion of Wi-Fi users.”

At the beginning of UB’s Wi-Fi buildout plan six years back, it was decided to install for Wi-Fi coverage only and not performance. This is due to the fact that it would have taken twice as long to complete if each building was designed for high density. Now that there is basic coverage almost everywhere at UB, phase two of the Wi-Fi Buildout Plan will focus on improving the coverage for high density and for performance.

Phase two will give people on campus better signal strength, better throughput (the rate of successful message delivery), better bandwidth and a more reliable connection. It will also replace about 500 access points that had been installed in previous years and update them with the latest standard of 802.11n. The order in which buildings will be updated is weighted by factors such as building size, amount of people in the building and if the building is student-serving, such as libraries and residence halls.

Phase two is expected to start in January 2014. In the meanwhile, UB and CIT are stressing the importance of Wi-Fi and Bluetooth conservation– not just to meet the university’s environmental stewardship goals, but also to improve Wi-Fi coverage on campus.

Because Wi-Fi is a limited commodity, it’s advised to take better alternatives if they are available. Students living on campus in residence hall rooms and apartments have free access to ResNet, UB’s wired Ethernet connection with the help of a personal Ethernet cable. Not only is ResNet 1,000 times faster than using a Wi-Fi connection, it also conserves Wi-Fi for those who need it (those using devices such as iPads, or laptops in academic buildings). Another step to be taken is to shut off Wi-Fi and Bluetooth on devices that don’t need it. For example, most modern printers and routers have Wi-Fi enabled by default, but if they're connected to a wired port, these devices don't need Wi-Fi access and should have it turned off.

Additionally, one of the biggest difficulties the university’s network faces is interference from unmanaged access points, or access points that people—especially students—bring from home and install in order to connect devices to UB’s secure Wi-Fi network. These unmanaged access points share the spectrum with UB’s Wi-Fi system, meaning UB’s network has less bandwidth and poorer performance than it should be able to provide. Since they aren't able to avoid spectra conflicts, these access points can interfer with each other.

The access points installed by CIT communicate with each other through a central server, so they actively avoid interfering with one another, which could other cause chaos with 2,500 access points across campus. When other access points transmit at the same time, it disrupts the ability of the CIT access points to coordinate with each other and degrades network performance for everyone using Wi-Fi in the area.