Though there isn’t much documentation regarding the upkeep and progress of Oregon State University’s network, there is a plan posted on OSU’s Information Services Project Management site. The report “Research Network” headed by Tony Brock details the university’s plan to allocate recently acquired money towards the university network. Read the full document here.

In 2013, Information Services, in conjunction with CGRB and the College of Engineering, received an award from the National Science Foundation to “build a Science DMZ.” This presumably is referring a fast, reliable network that promotes scientific research, simulation, and collaboration. The document lists four main goals of project were designing a network to support “high-performance applications”, having integrated systems to transfer data, having an easy way to test and troubleshoot network quality and coverage, along with pushing prudent, appropriate security policies to keep users safe and secure. Along with these broad goals, more specific attainable figures are posted such a 40 gigabyte per second (Gbps) speed, and a roading to expand to a 100 Gbps connection.

While the network speeds may reach (and even exceed) 40 Gbps in some areas and implementations, that’s certainly not a consistent standard that’s help up to all devices and all environments. It is important to note that while this number is referenced many times throughout the report, it is never listed whether this 40Gbps corresponds to a wired or wireless connection, or whether this speed is aimed to be available on all OSU networks, or just the “primary” one (OSU_Secure).

While the proposal does primarily focus on the research aspect of the network, it is interesting to note that there is no mention of wireless anywhere in this proposal. It may cause one to wonder about the priority the university assigns to having a solid wireless coverage and appropriate speeds.

In my opinion, the lack of focus on this aspect, leads on an unbalanced network and, though it may work great in a set of wired machines in a specific building, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the network as a whole is healthy. It seems to be a particularly significant lack of foresight, since just as much work happens in the field and in remote labs, as does in the central areas of campus. An ideal network would fully support both the wired and wireless aspects, in order to make internet-based tools easier and more effective for all Oregon State affiliates.

There are many things that can obstruct the reliability to WiFi connections in a large community such as Oregon State University. Such examples include concrete buildings and abundant number of trees.

If there is not a direct line of sight between the outdoor router and the device in use, there can be a significance difference in connection power depending on the device in use. Most of the time, in Oregon State University, the most used item in question outdoors is the wireless cellphone. If there is a building in the way between the cellphone and outdoor router a decrease in internet speed is expected. The severity of slowness depends fully on what the building is made of and how large it is. For example, the connection would be better if the building was smaller and made of wood than if it were large and made of concrete. Most of the buildings at Oregon State University are both large and made of some form of stone, mostly concrete. This makes the obstruction of internet speed very high in most locations around campus, making it difficult to use your cellular device to send messages or check your email.

There is also a high population of trees on campus, each tree providing a form of obstruction towards wireless internet as well. Though the slowness trees cause is nowhere near the same as large buildings, it still provides a noticeable amount. Despite this, taking the trees down is not cause to solve the major issue that plagues campus. Rather than going to those measures, one might seek out to place more routers around campus to provide a more clear view of highly populated walkways. These walkways including engineering way and the major pathway before the LINC building. These locations see much traffic on a daily basis and are both surrounded by either large concrete buildings and trees. To have outdoor routers in direct line of sight in these areas would greatly improve the use of wireless internet on cellular devices making it more reliable to check ones email.

It is important to have reliable internet access on campus for both staff and student because this is how everyone is interconnected with one another. If a student can’t respond to a professors email in between their classes or a professor can’t make clear a powerpoint between tasks they must complete in a short timeframe whilst on the go, then the working in the Oregon State University environment is made far more difficult then it has to be.

There are many points around campus, such as outside the LINC building or on engineers way, that the internet is nearly impossible to rely on to get a simple task done. The major conduit for this effect being the great obstruction in those areas. Despite this obvious handicap people have in those areas, both students and staff go about their daily tasks without anything more than a simple murmur of disagreement. These murmurs won’t get the job done for fixing the problem, but it is the only thing most people think they can do to voice their opinions. This couldn’t be anymore incorrect for there are many ways one can make their voice heard on campus to solve an issue they might be having involving a problem with the WiFi. The only way a change can be made is by having many voices be heard in a single effort against the poorness of it.

Some means to come about this change would be the creation of online polls or standing out on campus and directly talking to the students and staff about the WiFi connections in the various areas described above. Being outside the LINC building or on engineering way, while subtle murmurs are being made, is the perfect time to have those murmurs become voices for change. If everyone who cares to improve the WiFi were to speak up all at the same time then surly the problem would be met and answered accordingly. The major reason it has not been addressed yet is both because of the lack of voice in regards to it and the lack of funds to resolve the problem. Both of which can be solved through a joint effort for change.

One of the problems that may be hindering the progress of outdoor WiFi updates is cost. The special access points that are required for outdoor use are very expensive and require special infrastructure upgrades. With the high cost in mind it’s obvious why outdoor WiFi hasn’t just popped up all at once. So naturally there must be a plan for for upgrades to happen over time. When considering which areas to upgrade first it seems to make sense that the highest traffic areas receive the priority.

By observation it becomes pretty obvious that there are a few major paths that students tend to take every day. Of course there are many other paths that students may take but the two major paths should take priority. The map below shows some of the proposed high traffic areas. The green areas already have outdoor wireless capabilities, the yellow areas are lower priority and the red areas are the high traffic areas.

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OSU has a fluctuating global WiFi that is neither reliable nor capable of providing desired coverage for the hustle and bustle of campus. There are very few outdoor access points and the ones that do exist are spaced far apart from one another and point towards major gathering areas such as the MU. With the focus on these populated areas, there is not enough attention given to the major walkways where more students need reliable WiFi. When they have ten minutes to get from one class to another, but they have to send an email to a professor, they usually have to wait a great deal of time before their internet browser even launches. To solve this, more WiFi access points would need to be installed outdoors. The downside to the installation is the required wiring and waterproofing which evens out to $2,500 each. According to the Director of IT for the College of Engineering at Oregon State University, in order to create a better outdoor coverage two things must happen: Special outdoor rated access points must be purchased and a hard-line data connection must be brought to the exterior of a building and be made waterproofed. The waterproofing and getting an ethernet cable outside of the building are by far the most expensive portions of the task because the actually installation of an indoor access point isn’t anywhere near as expensive. When installing outdoor, not only do funds need to be directed towards the equipment, but to ensure the job is done effectively and lasting, a professional electrician must be hired to install them. This increases the price of the entire endeavor exponentially. It is brought up so much so that it makes it unlikely that we will see any major change done to the WiFi connection on campus unless it is directly mentioned and brought up. Only through bringing to light these issues about global WiFi over the Oregon State University, we can seek to find a better solution to the main money problem involving the acquiring of more outdoor access points such as fundraisers or petitions signed to get some gears turning.

In the last ten years, WiFi has become a necessity in restaurants, businesses, and homes. Twenty years ago it would be uncommon to go up to a barista and ask for the password to their network, but now it happens every day. The era of telephone-based communication has fallen into the wake of the internet, and we as a society have been further and further integrating ourselves into an internet-dependent state. Just like we have learned to expect WiFi at our coffee shops, we now need it on our college campuses as well. Whether it’s school-related apps, email, or web browsing, there’s plenty of reasons why wifi on campus is not only practical, but is also advantageous to the university. This trend is well exemplified at Oregon State, with a student, staff, and faculty population of close to 40,000, there’s many ways in which WiFi is used both to increase the user experience, and enhances the quality of the education provided.

One reason supporting the necessity of WiFi at Oregon State is the fact that OSU is a prolific research university. Graduate and Doctoral students, along with professors and instructors are doing cutting edge research, often with colleagues off campus, across the state, or even across the world. Having a strong wifi network allows these professionals to collaborate and communicate no matter where they are on campus, and lets them focus on their expertise instead of trying to troubleshoot their network connection. A fast connection is especially necessary when large amounts of data are collected and need to be processed, and shared.

Another huge obviously large demand for WiFi comes from residents on campus. With nearly all of first-year students at Oregon State living on campus, there are a lot of users, and a lot of devices connected simultaneously. Dorms can be particularly high-traffic areas and can be easily overwhelmed, especially when several rooms have to share the same access point. Most students have at least a phone and computer connected, and many also have a gaming console, a tv, or another WiFi capable device all connected at once. To a first-year student, new subjects and classes can be stressful enough without the added stressor of an incompetent WiFi connection. Providing every campus resident with a stable, quick wireless connection means it’s easier to focus on homework, deadlines, and learning, rather than having to wait for a lecture slide or informational video to load.  

A last, and perhaps most impactful demand for WiFi on campus is the simple answer: people walking on campus. When someone is walking, whether they be an instructor, a student, or a researcher they most likely have one thing in common: they’re short on time. Many people depend on their little breaks between classes (or meetings) to check deadlines, respond to emails, or just more generally, be productive. If your WiFi is constantly cutting out while you’re trying to preform one of these tasks, it slows you down, and also increases stress. A university is a demanding environment to be in, and having a consistent link to the internet makes it just a little bit easier.

It may come as a shock to some people that wireless internet is not actually wireless at all! In fact for a large wireless network there may be hundreds or thousands of wires just to get the wireless data to the internet! If we considered how many wires it takes to actually stitch together the internet we probably wouldn’t be able to count them!

So then what does it actually take to make a wireless network, huh? Let’s start small and look at a typical wireless application for the home. Everyone with internet at home has WiFi these days thanks to “wireless routers.” But “wireless routers” are neither “wireless” nor are the only “routers”, so what’s going on?

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