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.

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.