KSU students battle for Wi-Fi

By THOMAS HARTWELL

At the beginning of the fall 2014-2015 academic year, Kennesaw State University announced that the information technology department would be cracking down on student use of personal wireless routers in the residence halls.

KSU Housing and KSU Residence Life began what they referred to as a “soft roll-out” of these wireless router restrictions after hundreds more wireless access points had been installed throughout the residence halls in past months.

This “soft roll-out” meant that, via a pop-up webpage, KSU Housing and KSU Residence Life would inform students who attempted to connect to their routers that the routers should be disconnected in order to improve KSU Wi-Fi access. This webpage would also redirect students to the KSU Wi-Fi login.

The goal of the installation of the new access points is to make wireless Internet available anywhere on campus and to do away with the need for personal wireless routers.

Some students, however, feel that they have not seen any improvements in Internet connectivity around campus or even in their own dorm rooms. Many students are also frustrated by the restrictions on personal routers because they feel that they cannot trust the connectivity of the on-campus Wi-Fi.

Zachary Simms works on his assignments from his living room shortly before choosing to connect via Ethernet. Photo by Thomas Hartwell.
Zachary Simms works on his assignments from his living room shortly before choosing to connect via Ethernet. Photo by Thomas Hartwell.

“We pay for on-campus housing, which includes wireless Internet connectivity,” said Zachary Simms, a resident of the University Village. “I’m constantly getting disconnected from the KSU network while I’m trying to work. I don’t think it’s fair that many students feel they need to leave their rooms in order to get any online work done.”

Simms said that he has lived on campus for three years and had better Wi-Fi experiences when all students were permitted to use personal routers.

“I don’t think the initial claim of routers clogging the new KSU access point connections is accurate,” said Simms. “The school provides wired Internet to each of our bedroom ports, so when we plug a router into those wired ports, it shouldn’t clog anyone else’s connection. It’s not like we’re stealing Internet.”

Simms went on to say that KSU’s access points only allow two devices and a gaming system per resident to be connected at one time. He said that these connection restrictions are also unrealistic.

“We all know that college students are going to want to connect more than two devices and a console to one Wi-Fi network.”

Some students feel that they must take matters into their own hands to improve their wireless access.

Despite KSU’s no-router requests, many residents continue to battle for the ability to use their own routers.

“My roommates and I have had a router since we moved in last year,” said Destiny Snow, a sophomore and resident at KSU. “I’ve always heard people say to bring a wireless router to school when you go, because the on-campus Wi-Fi will be bad.”

Destiny Snow expressed her experience with KSU’s Wi-Fi and reasons for her use of a wireless router. Photo by Thomas Hartwell.
Destiny Snow expressed her experience with KSU’s Wi-Fi and reasons for her use of a wireless router. Photo by Thomas Hartwell.

Snow said that when she connects to a wireless network in certain locations on the core of campus, places like the library or the student center, she has no problems, but when she wants to sit on her couch to complete an online homework assignment, she has no such luck.

“I would use KSU’s Wi-Fi in my dorm with no problem if I could trust the connection. I just can’t.”

Snow said she also knows that she could connect via the provided Ethernet port in her bedroom, but doesn’t always want to be confined to that space.

“I’d love to be able to sit on my couch and have just as strong Internet there as I do from the Ethernet at the desk in my room,” she said.

KSU’s IT department has been working to investigate any and all difficulty with Internet connection after the installation of the new access points in the residence halls.

Raiden Stiegel is both a part-time student and IT staff member at KSU and has been active in attempting to solve connectivity issues, but says it is much more difficult when students continue to use routers.

“A lot of the issues we’re hearing about we didn’t even know existed because students’ personal routers are filling in holes in the KSU Wi-Fi signal,” said Stiegel. “If connection issues are experienced in a room, they should be reported to IT. We will come out and fix the problem.”

Stiegel went on to say that if students are still using routers, tests to determine how strong and consistent that a Wi-Fi signal is in the residence halls will often be skewed. When the new access points were installed, he said, students were still allowed to have routers, which explains why there were no complaints of connectivity issues last year.

Stiegel explained that are many possible reasons for the issues that students may be having with their Internet connection, and solutions range from relatively simple to extremely complex.

“Older, 4-gigahertz devices can be very easily disrupted,” said Stiegel. “When lots of 4-gigahertz devices are near each other, it’s a lot like lots of people being in a tiny room. If you and I were trying to talk in a crowd like that, we wouldn’t be able to hear each other. Having lots of those devices close by clogs their communication, but again, it’s difficult to just fix all the issues because, for example, even a microwave could disrupt a wireless signal from some devices.”

Stiegel also explained that newer, 5-gigahertz devices, like some recently released wireless routers could disrupt the KSU signal affecting some students while not at all affecting students with the newer devices. Having a newer Wi-Fi signal device, he said, can actually cause someone around that student to lose Internet access.

Another issue that students have to consider is the time it takes to work out all the kinks in a new system.

“There’s no way to know right away where all the issues are going to be,” said Stiegel. “This is a completely new system to KSU and it took quite a while to even install.”

He added that contractors from Bluesocket, with the help of KSU maintenance, had to work from August 2013 until January 2014 to install access points throughout the halls of all of the residential communities on KSU’s campus.

“From here on out, new buildings that are constructed on campus will already have these access points, but we will still periodically check to make sure that those access points are working the way they should be and repair them if they aren’t.”

KSU’s Bluesocket access point system is said to be able to detect personal wireless routers and block the user from that router, directing the user back to the home network.

Students, however, have begun to find ways around having their routers detected. Routers can be hidden in a network by adjusting the router properties after the router is set up.

Routers are also becoming more and more efficient and are a low-cost wireless Internet option for many homes and schools. Most wireless routers have 4 ports, some may have as many as 8, and can be adapted to have as many as 17 total ports. They range in price from $20 for simple local networks to hundreds of dollars for larger scale networks.

“Routers are popular at KSU because they are more efficient and more consistent than what we’re dealing with in the residence halls,” said Snow. “No one will stop using their routers until the provided Wi-Fi can be trusted.”

Stiegel counters Snow’s statement, saying that the IT department isn’t trying to discourage routers to be controlling. They are discouraging routers because they are disruptive in a “big-picture” view.

The most important thing to remember, says Stiegel, is to tell someone that an issue is occurring so that it can be fixed.

“We won’t know the problem’s there if you don’t report it, and if we don’t know, we can’t fix it.”

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