Responding to campus complaints about poor Internet connections, Computing Services administration said they’re nearing the end of upgrades that should improve service.
Along with the start of the new school year came repeated complaints about the difficulty many have experienced while trying to get online wirelessly as well as with the general slowness of campus Internet access. Anticipating the need to upgrade and enhance the access currently provided, “plans to update our wireless Internet access were made in the spring of 2005 and we’d hoped to have all the work completed before the school year started,” said Bruce McCreary, director of Computing Services.
Almost 90 percent of the work to upgrade campus-wide wireless Internet access and bandwidth has been completed and the projected finish date for both projects is set for the end of next week.
Mills hired WBE Network Systems to perform a site survey of the campus and determine what additional equipment needed to be installed and where it should go in order for Mills to improve the quality of wireless Internet access. McCreary said that unfortunately, there was a delay in the company coming out to do the survey over the summer, so the projected end date was delayed.
McCreary said that following completion of their survey, he hired WBE Network Systems to do the installation for new antennae necessary for the upgrade. Mills staff did the rest of the work for the upgrade and were responsible for purchasing, inventorying, and configuring the equipment, as well as installing an additional 80 access points and eight switches.
There was about a “50 percent increase to the number of access points in the residence halls,” McCreary said. “Not all required more,” but those that did had them installed in the attics, he said.
Only one residence hall, Ethel Moore, has yet to undergo installations. McCreary said that “there should be no more holes in the access,” so getting online should not present a problem.
Many other students and faculty struggle, not with being able to get online, but with the slowness encountered once they are connected. Noting that wireless Internet access is often erroneously blamed for this problem, McCreary said, “many students think that it’s the wireless that causes the Internet to be slow, but in actuality, it’s a bandwidth issue.”
Bandwidth determines how much information can be transmitted and received online and how quickly such transmissions and receptions can be made. Currently Mills has three megabytes per second of bandwidth for all of the computing done campus-wide.
“We knew that we were going to need to expand our bandwidth capacity for research as well as recreational computing especially in view of the large incoming class, and we’ve been saturating the Internet connection with the start of the school year,” said Marshall Northcott, director of Central Systems and Administrative Computing, “so we started planning in the spring for an upgrade.”
SBC was contracted to upgrade the bandwidth from three to nine megabytes per second, thereby tripling the bandwidth capacity on campus. Northcott said delays in this project were experienced as well, and that such delays were typical of a project such as this one due to “the ordering of different parts and pieces, and parties, responsible for separate duties, having to rely on one another in order to complete their work.”
The good news is that “the way things are going, the work should be finished by the end of the month,” according to Northcott.
Expanding the bandwidth also affords the opportunity for new types of programs to be offered by Mills. “More services will open up to the music department,” Northcott said. “They offer a performance using the Internet and they need a specific amount of bandwidth to make it successful.”
“The additional bandwidth will enable them to go ahead with their performance without impacting the rest of the community,” said Northcott.
Though neither director gave a definitive response as to the amount of money involved in providing Mills with the additional equipment and bandwidth, McCreary did say that the amount was, “well over $20,000.”
Historically, Mills has striven to remain technologically ahead of the mainstream. In 1999 Mills purchased the only consumer level wireless Internet product on the market, Apple AirPorts, and in 2001 Apple Computer Inc. presented the college with the Leadership in Technology Award for “pioneering the implementation of a wireless network,” in the residence halls and other buildings on campus.
So what has caused Mills to seemingly drop, as complaints would lead one to believe, from its esteemed position of leadership in wireless Internet technology?
“Consumer level wireless Internet changed,” and “now there’s a more extensive install process,” said McCreary, who expressed his excitement about the additions he and his staff have been making around campus to improve wireless access.