Discourse / Editorials / October 30, 2008

Worried about weak wireless

Last year, I was the Technology Chair of the Student Senate. The Computer Center administrators, Steve Jones and Steve Hall, wanted to get student feedback concerning their proposal to make all the residential spaces on our campus wireless only (a.k.a. all Ethernet ports in living areas would be deactivated.) There was significant concern from the student body and the Student Senate regarding this proposal. The Computer Center made the following three points in their attempt to sell their all-wireless proposal to the students:

1) Our network equipment lease is up for renewal in 2009.

2) The Computer Center plans on leasing the new Wireless-N standard routers in 2009, which are expected to have a range increase of four times that of the current routers.

3) Knox would save ¼ of a million dollars by deactivating one Ethernet port in each residence, and ½ of a million by deactivating both ports.

Therefore, the Computer Center argued we should go all wireless in the residential halls. However, taking in student feedback and concerns, the 2007-2008 Senate Technology Committee proposed a one-port compromise and presented a resolution to the Senate last spring. The committee came to this compromise by considering the following points:

1) At any given time, around 70-85 percent of students are using the wireless technology.

2) A significant number of students reported experiencing slow speeds while using wireless because of weak signal and interference (e.g. some microwaves, cordless phones, cell phones, and Bluetooth equipment, to name a few, can interfere with wireless signals because they emit identical or similar frequencies).

3) Students were concerned that there would be no wired network to fall back upon when the wireless is not working on their computer.

4) Students were concerned about the safety of increasing the number of high frequency energy waves in regards to their personal health.

These facts led us to the one-port compromise, which, according to the Computer Center, would save ¼ of a million dollars. The one-port resolution passed senate last spring. However, we are once again being asked to vote on an all-wireless proposal just months later.

Traditionally, fresh Senates are known to be very eager to quickly vote “yea” on the first resolutions of the year, so this is the most opportunistic time for the Computer Center to reattempt to garner support for their proposal. The hope is that senators who do not know the technical details of how computer systems and networks work will vote yes and not think too hard about this issue.

However, we need to be careful and thoughtful about what we are being asked to vote on here. Let us consider the blatant reasons why it does not make sense to abruptly go all-wireless at the start of next year.

We are being led to believe that we are supposedly getting this amazing new wireless equipment in the spring that, unlike our old equipment, will never fail and will reach every single possible place on our campus. This sounds great (and I hope it is true). So clearly it only makes sense to immediately deactivate all of our existing wired ports that we know are reliable and launch this new unknown system in its place next fall. Granted, the Computer Center will surely have tested it in the summer, but to be honest, they test our current network too, and we can virtually all attest to troubles with it despite their sincere efforts to foolproof it.

So, call me conservative here, but I would like to see some overlap. As Joe Biden would say, “Let me repeat that—overlap.” We are not against wireless, but students would feel a lot more comfortable having a year minimum where, as the Senate voted last year, we have both one wired port per room along with the new “super-wireless.” We need at least one year where we can assess just how “super” the new system really is, and to deactivate our only backup before having done so would be foolish and irresponsible. An educational institution that relies so heavily on being able to access the web would be reckless to just deactivate all of our wired ports in the hopes that the new system will work 100 percent of the time for 100 percent of the students. (Oh, and those of you who do not have a wireless card in your desktop or laptop, you get to spend an extra $50 to buy one.) This proposal is simply ludicrous when we examine it, but that is exactly what the Computer Center is again, through the new technology chair, asking us to support. This proposal will undoubtedly be up for debate in the form of a resolution very soon in Senate. I hope that students and senators take the time to think about this issue before they offer their endorsement of such an irresponsible proposal.

Michael Leon

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