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Wi-Fi at BCIT a growing pain for students

On-campus Wi-Fi connectivity struggles to keep up with demand as number of devices continues to grow

BCIT’s efforts to keep up with the increased number of independent Wi-Fi capable devices on campus have not eliminated student frustrations over connectivity and other Wi-Fi related issues.

The BCIT Student Association (BCITSA) has received numerous, continuous complaints from students who have a hard time connecting to BCIT’s Wi-Fi. Those who have been able to connect have been experiencing slow connections, according BCITSA Vice President of Finance Geoff Smith.

“We hear about [Wi-Fi issues] pretty frequently. It’s one of the most common issues that students speak about here at the Student Association,” said Smith.

[pullquote]“It’s eating up into lab time and class time; it’s impacting us in a whole bunch of different ways.”[/pullquote]According to Stephen Lamb, Chief Information Officer at BCIT, although students are encouraged to go to the information technology service desk in building SE12 of BCIT’s Burnaby Campus to report issues or concerns, there are not many doing so. Smith attributes the minimal use of SE12 to report issues to lack of promotion.

“I think that there are fewer issues than there were in the past, like this time last year,” said Smith. “But the issue still exists and I think the students aren’t connecting with SE12 and the office there because there isn’t a good enough awareness.”

As Wi-Fi is becoming such a critical service, the institution is taking on a multi-million dollar infrastructure upgrade project, Lamb told The Link.

“We are replacing all 600 of the legacy access points with newer, faster and more capable devices,” said Lamb. “All of the old devices have been replaced and we have roughly a third of the additions to go to completion.”

Regardless of BCIT’s efforts, students are still having a hard time with connectivity and speed of the Wi-Fi on campus.

Marketing student Mike Hodson said he still has problems connecting to Wi-Fi on campus.

Can BCIT's WiFi cope with over 8,000 devices at once?

Can BCIT’s WiFi cope with over 8,000 devices at once?

According to Lamb, in 2010, there were about 1,000 devices coming onto the wireless network per day. That number increased to 3,000 devices in 2011, and 2012 saw a high of over 8,000 devices. So, the challenge comes down to exponential growth in devices.“During school hours it can slow right down,” explained Hodson. “If you’re trying to download slides for a presentation or lecture, it can be challenging.”

BCITSA Vice President of Student Affairs Marwan Marwan told The Link that, despite efforts by BCIT to combat the problem, it still exists and negatively impacts students’ campus experience.

“It’s eating up into lab time and class time; it’s impacting us in a whole bunch of different ways,” said Marwan. “Trying to do work in the Great Hall, you can’t because you can’t really access anything.”

Lamb says the issue is not how many students are on campus, but the amount of Wi-Fi compatible devices each student has on average.

Lamb looked at statistics from the most up-to-date information, December 11, 2012, when it was likely quieter than usual given the time of year. He found that in the 24-hour period, there were 6,088 unique mobile devices including smart phones, laptops, and tablet devices accessing the network.

The amount of data travelling over the wireless network in that one day was approximately 721 gigabytes. To put that number into perspective, Lamb says that the average work document is about 50 kilobytes, so that’s about 13 million documents.[hr]

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