As Wi-Fi needs surge, the UO adds wireless infrastructure

Man using laptop

Even after considerable network enhancements, a fall term unlike any other has strained the wireless network in a few University of Oregon residence halls, bringing ResNet and Information Services staff to the rescue of students experiencing challenges with Wi-Fi connectivity.

In Kalapuya Ilihi and Global Scholars Hall, in particular, many students required technical help in the first few weeks of the term to ensure they could attend Zoom class sessions at the same time as hundreds of their cohabitants.

"Of the students who've contacted us, we've been able to get everyone on the network," said Jessie Minton, vice provost for information services and chief information officer. "We are committed to ensuring students can take remote and online classes from their rooms."

Any student who has trouble with Wi-Fi or Ethernet in a residence hall should contact ResNet, also known as Housing IT Services. Direct contact by each affected student is essential to properly address specific needs.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic started, Information Services had already started a multiyear effort to upgrade on-campus residential Wi-Fi. The original project plan included a dramatic Wi-Fi upgrade this past summer for one residence hall to increase the number of wireless access points by a factor of seven.

In light of the pandemic, network engineers tripled their summer plans, installing almost 600 Wi-Fi units in Carson, Earl and Barnhart halls.

"We were so glad to be able to strengthen the infrastructure for so many students before they arrived for fall term," Minton said.

Justice Bean Hall, which was recently renovated, also features a high density of Wi-Fi units, as will the new residence hall under construction.

For students in other halls who are experiencing Wi-Fi issues, Ethernet often provides an excellent alternative.

"In recent years we saw a big reduction in Ethernet usage, so we scaled back the percentage of jacks that were activated to save the university tens of thousands of dollars in unused infrastructure," Minton said. "However, wherever there's an inactive Ethernet jack, we're more than happy to turn it on for any student who needs it."

Uncertainties about residence hall usage for fall made it difficult to fully prevent the network strain.

Along with taking ongoing temporary measures to expand network capacity in Global Scholars and Kalapuya Ilihi, network engineers are making plans to permanently upgrade the wireless infrastructure in those two halls at the next opportunity.

In the meantime, the team supported the creation of two new Wi-Fi access locations to support physically distanced gatherings on campus. The large, new outdoor tents at the Erb Memorial Union and in the Women's Memorial Quad now provide sheltered spaces for UO students, staff and faculty to eat and study.

A separate Wi-Fi challenge arose recently for Chromebook users. A late September update to the Chrome operating system prevented several students from getting their new Chromebooks connected to the UO Secure wireless network, although the laptops could connect to the UO Guest network and non-UO networks. UO engineers worked with a third-party vendor, SecureW2, to resolve the issue.

The instructions for configuring UO Secure for Chrome OS devices have been updated to reflect the change. Anyone who still can’t connect a Chromebook to UO Secure can submit a ticket through Wi-Fi networking support in the UO Service Portal.

—By Nancy Novitski, University Communications