Students should expect faster Wi-Fi on campus by the end of the semester, when UNM’s IT Department expects to complete access-point replacements.
Associate Director for IT Networks Gary Bauerschmidt said the department has been working on the renovation since April. He said the department is increasing the number of Wi-Fi access points from 1,900 to 2,400.
Bauerschmidt said that because the old access points were installed about five years ago, the University’s Wi-Fi system is out of date. He said the department decided to replace the access points during the spring 2012 semester in response to pressure from the student community.
“One year of IT is like seven years of normal life,” he said. “The access points have been obsolete, so we replaced them all.”
Bauerschmidt said the department did not receive extra funding from the University for the replacements, so it took about $1 million from its annual budget to fund the project. He said the department also convinced Zimmerman Library and the law school to contribute, which provided the department with an additional $100,000.
Bauerschmidt said that aside from adding more access points on campus, the department also relocated access points at the Duck Pond and in the SUB to increase Wi-Fi speed.
But Bauerschmidt said the increased usage of Wi-Fi, especially in popular places such as the SUB, often slows the network down. He said an average UNM student connects at least two wireless devices simultaneously.
“Originally, the wireless networks were designed only for your laptop,” he said. “Now, you have your laptop, your phone and maybe your iPad. There are 6,500 unique accounts connected, and each one of them has about two devices. We’re talking about 15,000 connections in the network at any time of day.”
UNM student Zach Garcia said he uses UNM’s Wi-Fi connection for about three hours every day. He said that sometimes while on campus he can’t connect to Wi-Fi, especially when he uses devices in the dorms and in the SUB.
“Sometimes it gets really annoying, especially around midday,” he said. “I’d get booted a lot because there’s just so many people on Wi-Fi that it can’t handle the traffic.”
Garcia said he tries to avoid doing schoolwork in academic buildings, such as Dane Smith Hall, because the Wi-Fi connection lags most of the time.
“Recently, I’ve tried to avoid the whole Dane Smith area just because I can’t get access down there,” he said. “It definitely needs improvement.”
UNM student Brigid O’Rourke said that although she can access Wi-Fi easily in open spaces, connection is often slow in basements of Zimmerman Library and some academic buildings. She said that because many classes make use of Wi-Fi, the University should improve connection speed everywhere on campus.
“A lot of people use (Wi-Fi) while taking notes for classes and stuff,” she said. “If your teacher is saying something and you don’t know a word, it’s useful to look it up real quick. So I think it’s important to have it everywhere.”
Bauerschmidt said that although the department is trying to improve access, it is difficult to install access points because many buildings, such as Scholes Hall, Mesa Vista Hall and the Anthropology Building, have adobe walls that are too thick for Wi-Fi to penetrate.
“The walls are so thick that the Wi-Fi does not go through, or if it does, it gets so weak,” he said. “We have to be careful and creative on the designs about it.”
Bauerschmidt said the department meshes access points in buildings with thick walls. He said that through meshing, access points do not hit walls, and this allows passage of Wi-Fi signal. But he said this method costs more.
Bauerschmidt said the department receives at least one complaint about campus Wi-Fi per week. He said most of the complaints deal with old dorms such as Coronado and Alvarado, which did not receive more access points due to a lack of funding.
“What’s sad is that a couple of years ago, students voted us as the best wireless in town,” he said. “But the capacity is pressing so much now, and we didn’t get enough funding.”
Bauerschmidt said the department will find ways to increase funding in the future to provide better Wi-Fi access to students.
“We have a lot of funding requests we put in,” he said. “Everybody has budget constraints, so we’re trying to work with them to find a way to provide better wireless. We all have the right to be connected now.”