Dalhousie upgrades 'patchy' wireless system

The new Dal wireless system is faster, has more capacity and will have more coverage.

Once the project is complete, the new wireless will allow students to go from class to class, and even building to building, without losing a wireless connection on their wireless devices. Photo: Laura Parlee

International Development Studies student Colin Chisholm has been going to Dalhousie for four years now and he says the university's wireless network is his biggest complaint.

"Dal is a great school - but the wireless is so hit or miss. It's the number one complaint I have. Internet is such a huge part of a student's life now," he says.

Chisholm commutes to class from Sackville, and often spends long days at school. He says every day seems to be a toss up as to whether he'll have access to wireless Internet.

"If I could describe Dal wireless network with one word, it would be patchy," he says. "It can be like an epic journey trying to find Internet sometimes."

Director of Networks and Systems Pat Power says this is why they've decided to go with a new system.

"The focus always will be the students - the students that are the ones that have demanded this and need to have wireless everywhere. That's one topic that seems to come up on a regular basis," he says. "The goal is to have an environment where you can walk from building to building and continue on conversation without loosing a signal."

A new 802.11n system made by Aruba will cover more area and be much faster even with a higher volume of students online.

Network Services started making the switch last spring. Aruba products will be replacing a Cisco wireless system, but the school will still be working with Cisco for the wired networks.

The dentistry building, Clinical Research Centre, the Sir Charles Tupper medical building and the computer science building already have the new service, and the architecture building will be activated soon.
They hope with the new technology, they will be able to make wireless available everywhere on campus, including between buildings. But Power says this is still at least a year away.

"Phase one is getting the system working, phase two is getting all the buildings equipped with a wireless environment, phase three is to have all Dal property, inside and out, wireless," he says.
Which buildings get the service first depends on student surveys and the dean's willingness to fund the service.

Michael Sheppard, dean of the computer science, says he's pleased with the change. 

"It would provide a far better level of service for our students," he says. "The current system is fairly spotty across campus, even in our building the wireless did not completely cover the building, there was some blank spots where you could not get a signal, and when you did have a signal the speed was not as high as we would have liked."

The department paid 40 per cent of the cost for the service, totalling about $18,000 of the $45,000 project.

Sheppard says there have been some initial glitches, but he hasn't heard any complaints about the service so far.

Aruba also works with University of Calgary and McGill University but Power says he thinks Dalhousie is ahead of the game in planning to have a completely covered wireless campus.

Networks and Systems hope to have at least two of the larger residences done by the end of this academic year. They say the Student Union Building, all residences and the Dalplex are also priorities.

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